1792 to 1939: house and home at Hammerwood

Near the end of his service with S.R. Cockerell (1754-1827), B.H. Latrobe was made surveyor to the London Police (c.1792), a minor official appointment involving the supervision of renovation and repair of a number of district police stations. Around this time, shortly after his marriage to Lydia Sellon (c.1761-1793), the daughter of a wealthy Anglican clergyman, Latrobe opened his own office, and was soon getting enough work, mainly alteration jobs, to enable him to employ at least one apprentice.


Latrobe's reputation grew rapidly and he received commissions for some new residences, the first of which came through a Mr John Sperling, of Dynes Hall in Essex, who asked Latrobe to design him a hunting lodge at Hammerwood, Sussex. Latrobe's only other English house also survives - Ashdown House at Forest Row - which he designed the following year, 1793, for a Mr Fuller. Hammerwood Lodge and Ashdown House are the only two surviving English domestic houses by Latrobe, although he did remodel Barham Court in Maidstone which still exists today.


JOHN SPERLING was the son of Henry Sperling of Dynes Hall in Essex. When he was 26 (in 1789) he married Harriet Rochfort, a relation of the extinct Earls of Belvedere. He must have been a man of foresight to commission Latrobe, who was a year younger than himself and who had never before had free rein to design a complete building.


We can imagine Sperling and Latrobe finding this idyllic setting, featuring a simple iron-master's house, not far away from the Bower House which Sperling already owned. The remains of the former house have been uncovered in the recent restoration work and remain exposed in the West Wing bathroom. Together, Sperling and Latrobe created the property which you see today. The Water-Garden to the east of the house was constructed at this time, together with shrubberies which have long since been lost. It is sad that Sperling was unable to enjoy Hammerwood for very long, as he returned to Essex to look after his father when his mother died in 1795.


The DORRIEN MAGENS family were descended from two banking families and by 1798 were supplying silver bullion to the Royal Mint for the production of shillings. At this time they lived at Hammerwood; Magens Dorrien Magens lived with his wife (née Lady Henrietta Rice, with whom he had four children), at Hammerwood Lodge (as it was then called) and it seems that his brother, General Dorrien Magens, occupied Thornhill, next door.


Magens Dorrien Magens (c.1768-1849) proved an interesting character, who, due to the threat of the Napoleonic invasion of 1803, was instrumental in the setting up of a volunteer force of over 1000 men to act as a sort of 'Home Guard'. He was a leading London banker and former MP for Carmarthen (and later for Ludgershall). He died in 1849, leaving Hammerwood to his son, John Dorrien Magens, who is remembered for being the man responsible for the connection of East Grinstead to the railway system at Three Bridges in 1855. He was chairman of the local railway company until 1865, when it was purchased by the Brighton Line and extended to Tunbridge Wells.


The Dorrien Magens coat of arms is noted in heraldic circles as it contains the only examples of the cross hameçon in British heraldry. Three generations of this enterprising family enjoyed living at Hammerwood and they finally sold the house in the mid-1860s to another banker.


The new owner was OSWALD AUGUSTUS SMITH of Smith's Bank, now incorporated into the National Westminster Bank (NatWest). The Smiths are reputed to have been descended from the Carrington family and Oswald Augustus' sister, Frances, married Claude Bowes-Lyon and so became the grandmother of Her Majesty the Queen Mother (for more on the Smith ancestry, see here).


It is fair to say that Oswald Augustus was a true Victorian patricarch. He maintained not only his 1700 acres of woodland and farmland, but also provided a gas installation and roof insulation for Hammerwood. In addition, he took care of the surrounding community and provided a school for 100 children in the village as well as commissioning the building of St Stephen's Church, Hammerwood and the rebuilding of St Peter's Church, Holtye. He was the mainspring and chief benefactor of the Victoria Memorial Hospital in East Grinstead.


In 1901 THE REV. GEORGE FERRIS WHIDBORNE, a clergyman, was so impressed with the unusual and abundant wildlife at Hammerwood that he moved his large family from Dorset to Sussex to observe and enjoy this children's paradise. The young were encouraged to sketch and make notes of all that they saw. When away at boarding-school, they wrote long letters home enquiring after the pheasants, tree-felling and the family mongoose named Riky-Tiky.


The First World War claimed the life of George, without whom family life at Hammerwood could never be the same. During the rest of the War, Thornhill (the dower house on the estate) became a home for disabled soldiers. George had been awarded the M.C. and this was also awarded to his two brothers, who were lucky enough to have returned. The older of his sisters worked with the Red Cross.


After the War, all the children, who had now grown up, went their differing ways, leaving Hammerwood behind. Their father's ambition to become a missionary was fulfilled by Elfrida, who went to the Sudan. Excitement came when, in 1919, the prep school in Tunbridge Wells, which the Whidborne children had attended, burned down and so St Andrew's moved to Hammerwood whilst new premises were found in Forest Row. The old boys remembered playing cricket against Ashdown House (Latrobe's other English building, still in use as a flourishing school) in the gardens, and walking through the rhododendrons.


Due to death duties, 843 acres of the estate were sold in 1918. Three years later the it was necessary to the family to sell the remaining estate. A further 1300 acres of local farms were sold off, the house was sold and the contents auctioned. Hammerwood Lodge ceased to be the hub of local life. Left with 320 acres of adjoining park and woodland, the name was changed to Hammerwood Park. It was then, we see with hindsight, that the seeds of decline were sown.


The purchaser was LT. COL. STEPHEN HUNGERFORD POLLEN, C.M.G. who led a most distinguished military career, having been A.D.C. to the Viceroy of India and winning medals in India and South Africa. His family were the first residents to enjoy an electricity supply and water from the mains. It is an interesting coincidence that one of Col. Pollen's ancestors, Richard Pollen (brother of Sir John Pollen, Bart.) married the daughter of S.P. Cockerell, the architect under whom Latrobe studied.


In the 1930s, the TAYLOR family purchased and they were the owners when the Second World War broke out. As with all large houses, Hammerwood Park was requisitioned by the Army. It became home to 200 soldiers, including Denis Compton, the cricketer. They left their mark on the house as we have found army scarves, boots and Canadian cigarette packets under the floorboards (a small dig in spring 2012 revealed further WWII relics, including toothpaste tubes and various items of glassware).


Tanks were hidden in the woods and later, aircraft: the Special Operations Executive (SOE) used RAF Westland Lysanders for operations to France from a temporary runway to the north of the Park.


Back up to History

Forward to WWII to present: Decline, Dereliction and Restoration


















Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820)

"Mr. Sperling took me all round and across the woods to explain his intended plan of improvement. Nature has done a good deal for him. He has low and high woods, hills, vales, runs of water, springs etc. but a little assistance from art is wanting to render this as delicious a Spot as any in the Kingdom."

Christian Ignatius Latrobe (brother to Benjamin Henry), 24 October 1792



Below: the view which Sperling and Latrobe would have seen, across the valley and parkland on a misty but moonlit night (see here for a larger picture).















Below: St. Stephen's Church, built to a design of E.P. Loftus Brock. Oswald Augustus was the main benefactor.









































Below: a Westland Lysander similar to those which would have been kept to the north of park.

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