The parkland in which the School stands has an interesting history even before the School arrived there. It became a park – i.e. a space with fencing all round and gateways – in about 1680 when a deer park was created, by Sir Thomas Fotherley, from the estate known as The Bury. But of course the land had existed since long before that. It just wasn’t called a park.
People had always walked across, and used, the area. There is local evidence of Neolithic occupation, of Bronze Age activity and the ubiquitous Romans marched across it. The latter left a road behind but whether the road came first and the Romans used it (why re-invent the wheel?) or the Romans created a road and then everyone else used it is unknown. An area in what is known today as The Uppers shows the route of the Roman road.
In 2002, as part of The Big Dig, a group of students investigated the road, guided by an archaeologist. Subsequently, it was investigated further by a local archaeological group. More recently, another part of the same roadway has been uncovered in a different place in the grounds.
When Sir Thomas decided it behoved his status as a gentleman to have a deer park, the land was fenced in, possibly for the first time. You can’t put deer onto a parcel of land and not expect them to run away so seven foot high fencing was installed. However, in an acknowledgment that people had always walked across the land, gates were also installed to allow ingress. These were kissing gates, so-called because the gate ‘kisses’ the fence rather than being fastened to it.
This is a modern example of a kissing gate – although the principle is the same. However, courting couples often interpreted the name differently. As only one person at a time can pass through the gate, the ‘toll’ of a kiss from a sweetheart before the gate can be opened to allow anyone else through is a pleasant enough taxation!
An avenue was created but, like the Roman road, did the formal avenue follow the pathway trodden by countless feet over the centuries or did the feet use the new avenue? There was a pavilion constructed at the highest point on the avenue but no evidence of the actual building remains.
The Fotherleys continued to live at The Bury until 1709 when the last Fotherley died. The estate than went to nephews who added the name Fotherley to their own surname of Whitfield. The great-nephew of the last Fotherley was the first person to build anything substantial on the parkland. Henry Fotherley-Whitfield carved out five acres of the deer park and set about building himself a mansion.
The original house, although altered from time to time (including the addition of the portico), remained substantially the same footprint from 1805 until it was demolished in 1930. Most of the images of it are of its southern facia as if the large portico were the entrance. In fact the entrance was on the west side (not shown above) with a marble-floored hallway and grand oak staircase rising to the first floor, both lit by a large glass lantern in the roof above it. Henry Fotherley-Whitfield did not stint in his creation which included three reception rooms which could, when the need arose, be made into one large room measuring 20’ by 70’. Of course a gentleman also requires a billiard room and a library, so its floor plan was probably some fifty feet across and seventy feet long. There were 12 bedrooms but, as the three principal bedrooms all had dressing rooms or a maid’s room attached, it could be argued there were actually 15 bedrooms. And that’s not counting the ‘five very good servants’ rooms’ on the 2nd floor.
As befitted a house of such substance, there were any number of ‘working rooms’ for the small army of servants that would be needed. These included a kitchen, scullery, housekeeper’s room, butler’s pantry, flower room, servants’ hall, larder, bedrooms for two footmen and a butler, knife room and a dairy. If these are added to the footfall of the building, we might as well say the main building measured 70’ by 70’ and have done.
But that wasn’t all because there were substantial outbuildings too such as tool sheds and a potato room (for storing root vegetables), and there was also a bothy occupied by single male servants with someone to provide cooking and cleaning. In fact, if we look at the outline and take it as read that it is proportionately accurate, the outbuildings were almost as extensive as the house.
This, taken from a map of 1913, suggests that the outbuildings almost dwarf the size of the house but were more spread out and separated from the house by garden. Certainly there was a walled garden adjoining the house which had fruit trees in and there were also glasshouses for growing vines, mushrooms, camellias, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and peaches.
Given all this extensive building, one is hardly surprised to discover that Mary Fotherley-Whitfield, who inherited the estate from her husband, ended up in prison for debt.
As a widow, she married the solicitor charged with dealing with the estate, Thomas Deacon, who appears to have been almost as profligate as her first husband. The end result is that the estate had to be sold to pay its debts and so, in 1831, it came into the possession of the Arden family. Initially it was bought as part of a property portfolio but, in due course, it was inherited by Joseph Arden who is listed there in the 1841 census. The Ardens seem to have used it as their country residence, preferring to maintain a London home as their main residence. It was he who added the portico.
The story told about this is that Joseph Arden saw Moor Park mansion across the Chess valley from the Park – which mansion has a large portico as its main entrance – and decided he wanted one too! It was built over the dining room door so, impressive as it seems, it is not a grand entrance which was, and remained, facing west.
It was also he who developed the gardens for leisure use including a tennis court and a croquet lawn, a parterre garden, an orangery, a summerhouse and rose gardens with a fountain in the centre. The latter were still there when the School Prefects visited the site in 1930 for the laying of the foundation stone for the School.
This copy of a copy of a Box Brownie photo taken by one of the prefects clearly shows its existence and that it still had water in – as witness the girls looking at their reflections and the one about to fall in.
Joseph Arden also created the Fishery Gardens in five acres down by the river, the remains of which are still there.
The vast majority of the parkland was given over to sweeping lawns dotted with mature trees many of which continue to grow. In fact the trees were a noted part of the park – to wit the Baedeker of 1905:
So it was not just locals tramping across the grounds but tourists too!
The Ardens and their descendants remained in possession of Rickmansworth Park until 1926 when the School bought it. The line of posession was not straight though as twice it side-stepped into ‘incomers’ by marriage to the Arden family. John William Birch bought the Park from the estate of his father-in-law (Joseph) and then when his widow died in 1917, it went to the widow of the oldest son (who had pre-deceased his father), Charlotte Birch, by then Viscountess Barrington. It was she who put the property up for auction, although it failed to sell in 1920 and it remained on the market until the School found it and, after some hard negotiation from the owner, managed to secure it. The house, although apparently in reasonable condition, was not big enough for the size of school that was planned and the costs of converting it as part of a whole would have been too much. Thus it was decided that the house must be demolished although this did not happen until after 1930. Photographs of the laying of the foundation stone show the porticoed side of the house still intact and this photograph of the Garth under construction is clearly taken from a higher elevation. As the Garth was the first part of the School to be built, there was no higher elevation of school buildings to be used and so it seems highly likely that the old house was used to photograph the buildings that would in due course replace it. The sequoia tree (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is still in pride of place in the Garth, although we usually refer to it as the Wellingtonia – apparently mistakenly:
That we persist in affectionately – or stubbornly – calling it the Wellingtonia is a testament to its value as a living monument. (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk)
Well, whatever its name, it is still there and very much a feature of the Garth, both before that was built and afterwards. And there we will park the story of the Park although we will be – ahem – branching out into different aspects of it in other blog posts