Category Archives: Black-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Eat your way round Woodhall Spa

Petwood, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire

Petwood, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire

There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Woodhall Spa – the Dower House Hotel [], the Golf Hotel [] and the Woodhall Spa Hotel (formerly the Eagle Lodge)[].

The most historically interesting of them all is the mock-Tudor Petwood [], built by the Baroness Grace Von Eckhardstein, daughter of the furniture-store owner Sir John Blundell Maple in 1905.

In 1910, she divorced her German husband and married Captain Archibald Weigall, grandson of the eleventh Earl of Westmorland, who served as land agent for the Earl of Londesborough’s nearby Blankney estate.

The following year they commissioned the London architect Frank Peck to extend Petwood, building a staff wing to the east on what the Horncastle News described as “an enormous scale”.

Peck’s carefully stylised modifications give this wholly twentieth-century house a “borrowed history”, suggesting a series of additions through the Tudor and Jacobean periods.  The main staircase, often attributed to Maples carpenters, is more likely the work of Peck’s foreman-carver James Wylie.  At an unknown later date – but probably not much later – the grandiose two-storey oriel-windowed entrance bay was added.

Also, mainly during 1913-4, Harold Peto was employed to design the ambitious gardens.

In 1933 Petwood became a hotel, and during the Second World War this was the officers’ mess for 617 Squadron, the “Dam Busters”.

Now, it’s an exceptionally relaxing place to eat, drink or stay.  Indeed, you could spend a very satisfactory weekend staying at any one of the Dower House, the Golf, Petwood or the Woodhall Spa, and wandering off to have coffee, tea or a meal at each of the others.

And you could take home a picnic from the Bakery & Delicatessen at 14 Broadway (01526-352183):  they’re far too busy selling superb food to bother with a website.

The history of Petwood, successively as a house and a hotel, is detailed and illustrated in Edward Mayor, Petwood:  the remarkable story of a famous Lincolnshire hotel (Petwood 2000).

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.



Edgwarebury, Hertfordshire

Edgwarebury, Hertfordshire

Branching off Station Road, in the middle of the North London suburb of Edgware, is Edgwarebury Lane, lined with elegant thirties houses.

It crosses the busy A41 Edgware Way, otherwise the Watford by-pass, where pedestrians are provided with a very grand footbridge.

North of the A41 the houses eventually give way to tennis courts and a cemetery, and the road diminishes into a bridleway, though the bridge over the M1 motorway is built to main-road dimensions.

Edgwarebury Lane then climbs steeply past the Dower House, and eventually reaches the former Edgwarebury Hotel, now the Laura Ashley The Manor Hotel:

The name, and the persistence of the route against the grain of the modern road-system, suggest that Edgwarebury must have been at least as important as the once-rural village of Edgware.

This is, of course, not a sensible or practical way of reaching the Edgwarebury Hotel.  It’s reached via Barnet Lane and the last few hundred yards of the old lane.

The hotel was originally Edgwarebury House, the residence of Sir Trevor Dawson (1866-1931), managing director of the armaments company Vickers Ltd.

As an essay in Victorian or Edwardian black-and-white revival, it has one attractive show front, looking south across a gently-sloping garden surrounded by trees and looking across to distant views of London.

Within, the major rooms are embellished with antique carved timber and stained glass.  It has all the hallmarks of a late nineteenth-century interest in collecting architectural antiques.

It served as a location for the Hammer horror film The Devil Rides Out (1968), the rather more cheerful Stardust (1974) and much else.

It’s my favourite place to stay in the London area, whenever its special deals are cheaper than Premier Inn.

I like to walk down Barnet Lane, where the local motorists often drive at absurd speeds, to the crossroads and eat at the Eastern Brasserie [0208-207-6212], which serves the sort of Indian meals where you savour every mouthful, from the popadoms at the start to the slices of orange at the finish.

It’s always been one of my favourite start-of-the-weekend-in-London experiences.

There is an informative article about Edgewarebury Lane at

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Ladies with minds of their own

Plas Newydd, Llangollen, Denbighshire

Plas Newydd, Llangollen, Denbighshire

Among the less likely celebrities to attend the ceremonial opening of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in November 1805 were the Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and her companion Miss Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1832), of Plas Newydd, legends within their own lifetimes as the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’.

This famous and eccentric pair of friends were both of Irish ancestry but from contrasting backgrounds:  Lady Eleanor’s family had lost the title Marquess of Ormonde because of their Catholic faith;  Sarah Ponsonby’s family were members of the Protestant Ascendancy.

Neither woman had a particularly happy youth.  When Lady Eleanor reached the age of 39 without showing any inclination to marry, her mother tried to pack her away in a French convent.  It seems likely that Sarah Ponsonby was propositioned by a married relative, Sir William Fownes.

Despite a sixteen-year gap in their respective ages, the two formed an intense friendship and resolved to elope.  Though at first they were brought back to their respective families, the ructions were such that they were eventually allowed to leave together, with an uncertain income of £300, and after touring Wales and the Marches for nearly two years they settled in Llangollen where they rented a cottage that they renamed Plas Newydd (‘New Hall’).

Tended by a housekeeper, Mary Caryll, they took up a life of intended seclusion which was interrupted at regular intervals by such illuminati as the poet Anna Seward, Harriet Bowdler, editor of the expurgated Shakespeare, the great potter Josiah Wedgwood, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater, and Sir Arthur Wellesley who in later life became the Duke of Wellington.

Not all visitors were made welcome – the ladies were not beyond hiding from unwanted guests – but they were partial to gifts of antique carved oak, and Plas Newydd to this day is encrusted with weird woodwork.

Even in those pre-Freudian times tongues wagged periodically, and the General Evening Post of July 24th 1790 carried an article entitled ‘Extraordinary Female Affection’ loaded with the innuendo of a modern red-top.  Harriet Bowdler, writing after their deaths in 1836, probably defined the relationship as it was lived:

True friendship is a divine and spiritual relation of minds, a union of souls, a marriage of hearts, a harmony of designs and affections, which being entered into by mutual consent, groweth up into the purest kindness and most endearing love, maintaining itself by the openest freedom, the warmest sympathy, and the closest secrecy.

Elizabeth Mavor wrote a delightful account of the Ladies’ lives, The Ladies of Llangollen:  a study in romantic friendship (Penguin 1973), which is out of print, but is now available as a Kindle download:

Plas Newydd is a short walk out of Llangollen town centre:  it is administered by Denbighshire County Council [].

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.