diamond geezer

 Monday, April 14, 2008

Random borough (17): Redbridge (part 2)

Somewhere historic: Wanstead Park
Wanstead ParkOne of the grandest houses ever seen in Britain was built in Wanstead in the early 18th century. Wanstead House was a pioneer of Palladian style, with mighty Corinthian pillars and a 200ft-long frontage. The gardens were landscaped with tree-lined avenues and ornamental waterways, creating a spectacular Versailles-like estate. A mixture of Blenheim Palace and Hampton Court, if you like, and much favoured by the nobles and gentry of the Georgian era. So why have you never heard of Wanstead House, let alone visited? Because it's been completely demolished, that's why, leaving only the surrounding parkland as evidence of magnificence lost. And the tale of its disappearance is worthy of a modern day soap opera.

Wanstead once had a Tudor manor, snapped up in 1667 by the extremely rich Governor of the East India Company, Sir Josiah Child. He was succeeded by his son Richard who knocked down the old house and built an ostentatious replacement, in a successful attempt to improve his social standing. Anyone who was anyone came to Wanstead to admire, to socialise and to marvel. So far so good. In 1750 the house passed to Richard's grandson John - a dapper individual with a love of fine art. John never married (they didn't allow civil partnerships in those days) so the estate was eventually inherited by an unsuspecting nephew. And when his son died at the tragically early age of 10, Wanstead Park ended up in the possession of teenage heiress Catherine. Poor Catherine. She was courted by many men, but in the end discarded the portly Duke of Clarence in favour of raffish young William Pole-Wellesley. As mistakes go, this was a monumental biggie. The Duke went on to become King, and William turned out to be a womanising gambler with venereal disease and an irresponsible lifestyle. 10 years later, in 1822, William's creditors forced the sale of Wanstead House and all of its contents in an attempt to pay back a quarter of a million pounds of debt. But the house, alas, failed to attract any bids whatsoever and so was demolished and sold off piecemeal, brick by brick. Catherine died soon afterwards, tragically young, while her miserable husband lived into old age to wreck several more lives. Roll credits.

Wander around the vast acreage of Wanstead Park today, through the bluebell woods or across gorse-blown heathland, and only a few clues remain to its splendid past. That series of umpteen artificial ornamental lakes for a start, they don't look very municipal. And that crumbling stone grotto by the water's edge, it could only have been built on the orders of an 18th century aristocrat with a sense of the theatrical. And that low pillared building on a grassy mound at the end of a long chestnut avenue, it looks far more like a classical temple than a tea hut.

Wanstead Park Temple

Yes, it's a 'temple', and I was delighted to discover this folly open to the public (behind the scaffolding) when I arrived on Saturday. The park is now maintained and run by the City of London, and two of their finest volunteers were in duty to show me (and a handful of other visitors) around inside. The place is run as a small museum which tells the story of Wanstead Park, and there's no shortage of interesting exhibits. Old maps, information panels, rescued statues, and even the sales catalogue from the 1822 auction. There's also a cabinet full of Roman remains, dug up on site centuries ago when the tree-lined avenues were being laid. Oh yes, there must have been a Roman villa somewhere in the grounds once, but its precise location has long been lost. The extremely enthusiastic guide told me everything I needed to know about the house's history, and more, and I know she'd be glad to welcome you too. Really, this fascinating park ought to be seen and enjoyed by far more than an audience of local dog walkers.
by tube: Wanstead

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream