The Ardens of Rickmansworth Park

We last left Rickmansworth Park in the possession of the Ardens ( as an occasional residence with London the primary residence. Joseph Arden was a barrister of the Court of King’s Bench, the court of law for cases of bankruptcy. King’s Bench Prison took its name from this court and is where Mary Fotherley-Whitfield had ended up with debts arising from Park House.

Julia Arden was Joseph’s elder daughter and had married John William Birch, of Mildred, Goyeneche and Co, Spanish merchants of London. He later became a Director of the Bank of England (Deputy Governor, 1877-79; Governor, 1879-81).

When Julia’s father died, she and her husband purchased Rickmansworth Park from his estate. Perhaps they were the ones who lived there most often. Or it could be that the eldest Arden son, as presumed legatee, was a bit short of the readies and offered the estate to his brother-in-law in return for a lump sum. Whatever was behind the transaction, Rickmansworth Park became the property of John William & Julia Birch. After his death, she inherited it and later bequeathed it to the widow of her eldest son. But we are getting ahead of ourselves here so let us go back to 1879 when Joseph Arden died and the Birches took on Park House and the estate. Rather as his father in law had done, John William Birch used Rickmansworth Park as a country residence as his address is given as 27 Cavendish Square. Interestingly, this is now the site of the RBS bank so it has moved from being the residence of a Governor of the Bank of England to the residence of a bank.

In 1881 the Birches’ eldest son, John Arden Birch, married Charlotte Mary Leycester Stopford and Cavendish Square is given as his residence.

However, it is her residence that is interesting here: Hampton Court Palace.

Grace and favour apartments inside a royal palace were preserved for widows ‘in straitened circumstances’ whose husbands had given service to the Crown. These apartments were

“not always the most comfortable places to live. Residents regularly complained that the palace was ‘perishingly cold’ and damp, and some had no access to hot water.”

Why Charlotte Stopford’s family had an apartment is unknown. Although her mother was widowed young with three small children, her husband, Major George Montagu Stopford, is not noted amongst the King’s loyal servants. However, Charlotte’s grandfather, Field Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne, was.

‘From his first entrance into the army [1796], John Burgoyne commenced a career of active and laborious service, which continued without intermission for the extraordinary period of seventy-one years.’

His achievements include acting as a Royal Commissioner to superintend the completion of the new Palace of Westminster (1848), closely followed by a report into old Westminster Bridge as a result of which the old bridge was replaced by the one currently there. He was present in the Crimean War in 1865


‘by Lord Raglan’s side through the battle of the Alma, accompanied him in the subsequent long march, and slept on the ground in the open air, like the youngest soldier of the army’ (ibid)

He was given the title of Constable of the Tower of London and Lord Lieutenant of the Tower Hamlets in 1865, the first commoner ever to be granted these titles. He was in full vigour until he was 88 years old when his only son died after the vessel of which he was captain capsized in a storm and all but 19 sailors were drowned. Thereafter, he went into a decline and died within a year.

In Waterloo Gardens, there is a statue to him:

Despite the acres of print about his remarkable career, there is no reference to him being given the use of a grace and favour apartment at Hampton Court Palace but it remains a possibility that this is why his granddaughter lived in one and, according to her own autobiography, Through Eighty Years, had done so since she was a child.

It is worth noting that, although the ‘residence’ of Hampton Court Palace is given on several documents, none of the census returns ever place either Charlotte Birch nee Stopford or her husband there, even though his burial record again gives his residence as the Palace.














But then, if you are entitled to give a palace as your address, why not trot it out at every opportunity? Especially if doing so enables you to marry in what was once upon a time a very exclusive venue – Hampton Court Chapel Royal.

John and Charlotte had five children, three sons and two daughters; Dorothy, John, Cicely, George & Francis (Frank). There is an outside chance that this last born had a different kind of connection to the School but that’s the way coincidence works. As an adult, he was a cryptographer with Naval intelligence in both world wars. He joined the Naval section at Bletchley Park in September 1939, and was involved in work on the enigma code. And the connection to the School? Well two former pupils also worked at Bletchley Park at this time: Violet Elsie Geddes-Ruffle, also assigned to naval Intelligence as an 18 year old ‘Wren’, and Pamela Mary Lidstone, Block B. Naval Section. NS IV, Japanese codes. Whether these two ever encountered each other, or Frank, will never be known.

Violet Geddes-Ruffle and Pamela Lidstone, former pupils

Frank was only three when his father suffered a catastrophic stroke that rendered him paralysed for the remaining four years of his life. John Arden Birch died in 1896 and his father (John William Birch) was so utterly devastated that he also became very ill. To aid his recovery, he took a break in the South of France. On his return, however, he stayed overnight in a hotel and there died of a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner stated that, whilst it was clear that this was self-administered, it may have been accidental and he therefore allowed the death to be recorded as this. It should be remembered that until 1961, suicide was regarded as a criminal offence. Anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and imprisoned, while the families of those who succeeded could also be prosecuted and the estate taken by the Crown.


‘The suicide of an adult male could reduce his survivors to pauperism’ (

In allowing an element of doubt, the coroner was allowing the Birch estates to be inherited rather than being confiscated. His effects of £65,330 remained in the family and Julia inherited Rickmansworth Park.

She remained in residence until her death although, as before, ‘residence’ did not always mean she was physically there! It is a moot point whether she was there in 1911 when a murder took place in the Park. Rosa Gurney, a widow, was walking there with a man friend. Quite what happened is known only to the two of them – there being no witnesses– but she was stabbed a number of times and subsequently died. The Police next day arrested the man who (natch!) declared himself to be innocent. He claimed that, whilst walking, they had met two other men, Rosa had started talking to them and he got fed up waiting for her and left. Smacks rather like ‘a big boy done it and run away’ and clearly the Police thought so too. The bloodstains found on his clothing were the clinching factor and he was arrested.

Julia Arden died in 1917 and the estate came to the widow of her eldest son who had subsequently married (1905) Walter Bulkeley Barrington (1848-1933), 9th Viscount Barrington. On her first husband’s death, Charlotte had been left with five children to provide for, the oldest of whom was only 14.Her second marriage, to Lord Barrington, was a boon to her sons, no less than to herself.”

Lord and Lady Barrington lived at Becketts in Shrivenham, Berkshire, the house now being part of Cranfield University.

Here, Viscountess Barrington undertook the role of lady of the manor.

‘… a large part of her life at her country home is devoted to the care and comfort of the aged and sick and to the advancement of the children of her poorer neighbours.’ From Onlooker October 15, 1910 and cited by

In one aspect however, her beliefs would not gel with the girls’ school that bought Rickmansworth Park. Charlotte Barrington was a ‘convinced opponent of Woman Suffrage’ [sic] and sought

‘to inculcate among the girls of the village the first principles of domestic economy. Cooking, sewing, and housewifely traits are part of the education she considers necessary for every young woman’ (ibid.)

Rickmansworth Park was put up for sale by auction. It failed to meet its reserve price but it remained on the market until the School opened negotiations. These were protracted and it was a case of who blinked first. The School had the property independently valued (£45,000); it was advised that £50,000 should secure it but Viscountess Barrington was holding out for £70,000. Eventually, after much discussion, a figure of £65,000 was agreed with the curious stipulation that Lady Barrington could remain in residence until building began. Curious because, by all accounts the house was being looked after by a caretaker couple. And yet, in the School archives, letters between the School and Lady B clearly show her address as Park House. But then, when you have a multitude of houses at your disposal (there was also property in Ireland), you can use which of the addresses you like as and when it suits you!

Portrait in the National Portrait Gallery

The conclusion of the sale of Rickmansworth Park ended the Arden family’s connection with the estate after almost a century. Park House would, in due course, be demolished and the School begin its tenure. That in turn is rapidly approaching its centenary – the purchase of the estate in 2026 and the transferring of the School from its former home in London in 2034.

Walk in the Park

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. (

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