The Mysterious P

The Royal P

I can’t resist a mystery, so when I saw the photograph above, by helenoftheways, on flickr, with its accompanying question about the origin of the crowned P I was intrigued, and had to know the answer.

The gateway with the crowned P is the entrance to a pretty walled garden that was once part of the old Jackwood House. It’s a quiet, secluded, contemplative area, dotted with plaques and benches in memory of former residents of the area, such as an analytical chemist at the Woolwich Arsenal and head woodsman at Castlewood House. The garden has appeared on e-shootershill before, in this post about Stu Mayhew’s picture and poem “Into the Secret Garden”.

For once google was unable to provide the answer. It did reveal that Sir Robert Bateson Harvey had lived at Jackwood House in the 1870s. Harvey, MP for Buckinghamshire was married to Magdalene Breadalbane Anderson, daughter of Sir John Pringle, so I wondered if the P stood for Pringle, but it seemed a bit far-fetched.

Undeterred, I headed for the library. As a regular browser of the local history sections of Woolwich Library and the Heritage Centre I felt there must be a chance of solving the mystery there. However I found the key to the conundrum serendipitously when reading The Story of Christ Church Shooters Hill in the Proceedings of the Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society. This included a couple of pages summarising development in the mid 19th Century when a number of grand houses in the area were built or enlarged. Almost in passing it mentioned that “Jackwood House was raised by Lord Penzance ….”.

Lord Penzance
Lord Penzance picture from wikipedia

With this piece of information google was a bit more forthcoming. An article in SENine confirmed that the P stood for Penzance, and that the crown with balls on indicates a baronetcy.

Lord Penzance was famous for breeding new varieties of Rose, particularly striving for strong fragrance, including one named after himself, one after his wife and many named after characters from Sir Walter Scott. He was also responsible for jailing a number of members of the clergy under the Benjamin Disraeli-backed Public Worship Regulation Act which banned the use of catholic rituals – so-called smells and bells – in protestant worship. This act wasn’t repealed until 1965. Lord Penzance’s definition of marriage in 1866 is still in use today in the UK and some Commonwealth countries:

I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

Different sources give different dates for when Jackwood House was built. Some sources say 1862, but this is contradicted by a description of the House in a book entitled “Eminent Actors in Their Homes” by Margherita Arlina Hamm about two later residents of Jackwood House, the American actor Nat C. Goodwin and his wife Maxine Elliot at the end of the 19th Century:

The homestead dates from the fourteenth century. It is a low, irregular edifice with thick walls,  roomy stairways, queer passages, and mysterious closets. It has been built piecemeal at various times, and while the softening hand of the years has united the various parts into a harmonious whole, yet both walls and roofs indicate the constructive efforts of different minds. Each part has a roof of a different design, so that an interesting chapter in domestic architecture could be drawn from the roofs alone.

Jackwood House appears in the old Ordinance Survey maps of 1894 and 1914, but not that of 1866. However the 1866 map does have a large house named Mayfield in almost the same position as Jackwood, though a different shape. So was Jackwood House built by extending an existing older house? Another mystery, for another day!

Margherita Arlina Hamm’s description of Jackwood continues with more roses:

Lord Penzance Rose
Lord Penzance Rose from Roses UK

One part known as Miss Elliott’s rose garden is the fairest spot of all. In it are the plants presented to her by members of the nobility and royal family, and around these are specimens of nearly every rose known to horticulture. The old English tea-rose, both the white and the blush variety, grows here in perfection, as do the standard rose tree of France, the Jacqueminot, the Marechal Niel, the American Beauty of this country, and the climbing roses – white, pink, and red – of Kent and Surrey. Arbors and trellises afford shade to the visitor and support to vines, the peach and other wall trees. In England there is a quaint practice of training many fruit trees upon walls and trellises, which is almost unknown in the United States. It enables the gardener to secure a maximum of light and ventilation for the fruit, and to produce the fine specimens which carry off the prizes in the agricultural county fairs. It is near the rose garden that Miss Elliott holds tea-parties and levees in the afternoon, which are attended by the many friends – American, English, and French – of the host and hostess.
The interior of Jackwood Hall is as imposing in its way as the Tower of London. It was built at a time when the modern economical spirit had not come into vogue. The walls would stand a siege, while the beams seem large and strong enough to last a thousand years. The wainscoting is massive, and the floors have been worn by human feet, as well as by the hands of the cleaner, until they seem a work of art in themselves. The balmy climate of southern England permits the doors and windows to be kept open nearly all the year, and at many casements the vines and roses appear to have a mad desire to usurp the place of the curtains.

So a mysterious P leads to an interesting trip through local history, and leaves another mystery to be pursued. How satisfying is that!

The Mysterious P
The Mysterious P

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