Sunday, 1 March 2015

To The Manor Born?

The Old Manor, Dorsington 1870s

A common name for an old house in England is The Manor House. I have researched several properties with this name, but often the title was not a true description of the building’s historic status or function. Many weren’t and have never been the residence of the lord of the manor. But this fact is not detrimental to the house or its history. Often these Manor Houses had an equally interesting albeit alternative life and place in the story of the area.

The Old Manor, Dorsington © Ellen Leslie 2012
The Old Manor in Dorsington, in Warwickshire was originally built in the 16th century. Research revealed that this timber-framed and liasic stone construction had in fact been the farmhouse to the estate’s principal farm, The Manor Farm.  Interestingly, there wasn’t a manor house at all in the village; certainly from the 16th century onwards. There is a moated area (with a later house built on it) and early reference to a manor house “site” ;but historically, the lords of the manor of Dorsington were absent and simply leased the various farms and small holdings on the estate. 

The Old Manor Dorsington in the 1920s

In the late 18th century with improvements and expansion in agriculture, a new principal residence for the farm’s tenant farmers was constructed just down the road and the old thatched farmhouse was usefully converted into 5 dwellings for the increasing numbers of farm workers. With a new house for Manor Farm, a new name was needed for the old house … The Old Manor Farm was an obvious choice and The Old Manor was how it evolved up to the present day.

Manor House in Ware may not have been the home of the Lord of the Manor either, but in this case its own history goes back to the 12th century, when it was part of the Priory at Ware and probably contained the monks' dormitories. It has been suggested that the existing building sits on the footprint of those original sleeping quarters. 

Manor House, Ware ©Ellen Leslie

Manor House in 1671 ©Trinity College Cambridge
For this building, the title of Manor House came relatively late. Certainly since the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, this house was the main residence for tenant farmers, leasing the property and surrounding agricultural land from the estate owners, who were Trinity College, Cambridge.  It had many names over the centuries, but mainly The Rectory Farm or The Old Parsonage

These titles are also misleading, as the house was not attached to the local church or vicar, but the house’s ecclesiastical roots may have been to blame for these monikers and because it sits opposite the parish church. Today though the title Manor House suits it well, as it is certainly one of the largest, oldest and most impressive buildings in the town.

The Old Manor, Cholesbury ©Ellen Leslie
But not all manor houses are large or imposing. The Old Manor House in Cholesbury, in Buckinghamshire looks like a typical cosy village cottage, rather than the primary building of a large estate.  One thing is for certain, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the village. Over the centuries the residence of the Lords of the Manor has changed; but this house was never their home. So why is it called The Old Manor House? Unlike my previous two examples, this house wasn’t even the estate's farm house. 

The Old Manor House in 1753

What I did find was this was the house where the business of the estate was managed from. Court Barons and payment of rents and the hearing and resolution of local disputes would be held here. I also found that this house had once been double the size, losing half its structure at some time in the 19th century. So originally a greater building but only losing its role in the administration of the estate in the late 19th century when its freehold was sold.

So a property's name cannot give you a guaranteed indication of its past. Names change over time, with origins mixed up or forgotten. But whatever the name of a building, its past entitles it to be of equal historic interest whatever the real story.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

It's Show Time!

2015 will be the sixth year that I exhibit at the Listed Property Show at Olympia, run by the
Listed Property Owner's Club. It will also be my fifth year giving one of the expert talks at the
show. The Show takes place on a weekend around the middle of February every year.
Usually it means clashing with Valentine's Day, as it does this year. But if historic buildings are your
first love, then there's no dilemma whether to choose a romantic weekend away with your
other half or immerse yourself in all things lime mortar, lathe and plaster, timber-framed and listed. Some people combine the two!

Professional Advice

Naturally, the core attendees are owners of our country's protected house, looking for ideas and
advise to conserve, repair and maintain their precious properties. There are approximately
374,081 listed buildings in England so you can see there is a vast number of people for whom this
show would apply! Of course, there are many people who are not owners and come along just
because they are interested in old buildings - or they got lost looking for the National Wedding
Show next door, and decided to stay!

Stone Carvers
Decorative Plaster Specialists

The show provides a mixture of professional advice, traditional building crafts demonstrations as
well as showcasing new technology and products to benefit a historic home.  Past years have
included; metal, plaster and timber craftsmen giving demonstrations; societies like The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), The Georgian Group and English Heritage giving technical advice; as well as conservation architects, interiors specialists and garden designers. This is in addition to the Listed Property Owner's Club itself imparting tax, planning and insurance advice to its members and visitors on the day.

Specialist Talks

At the show I offer free house history research and historic/architectural feature advice on my stand and I find the range and rarity of privately-owned historic buildings presented to me quite amazing. It is obvious these people love their historic homes and are keen to do the best they can for them. It is great to be able to help them turn around from a dead end in their own research, whether it's through a one-to-one with me on the stand or as a result of something I said in my Beginner's Guide talk.
The show gets bigger every year, with more specialists exhibiting and demonstrating and more
owners of listed buildings coming along and gaining first hand information. I find it all great fun and
judging by the faces of those who come along, so do they!

If you would like to come to the show click here for details - >


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Past in our Future

John Rylands Library Deansgate © Ellen Leslie Ltd

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one tends to draw our attention forward. If you read newspapers or magazines at this time of year, 'trends' are the subject many publications are chewing over. What's the next big thing? What old attitudes or technology are we going to discard on the wave of newness?

Apparently we as humans are hard-wired to look for the new. Novelty is what drives our species forward. In reality though, despite the inexorable move forward, we are also living with our past. The past is what shapes us today. We would be formless and blank if we didn't carry the culmination of our lives, the kind of community we come from, the events we have witnessed, the scars sustained, the memories held on to. There is the valid opinion that we mustn't dwell in the past but at the same time, we are the walking, talking product of our past. It is what defines us. Our past has relevance today.

The same can be said of our physical surroundings. The world around us; the landscapes, roads, villages and towns we inhabit are the product of years, decades and centuries of life that defines us today. For me a 16th century timber-framed house, a Victorian warehouse, a parade of inter-war shops or the centuries-old camber of a village thoroughfare are just as much part of today as we are. But not everyone sees it like that. For some, the past is something irrelevant even less-than, that should be sacrificed for the needs of the present and plans for the future. Worryingly there are many people in positions of influence who want to and can put that attitude into action. Not a month goes past when I don't walk down a London street to find wholesale demolition and new, shiny buildings going up. And yet we do have success stories to refute such approaches. St Pancras Hotel once faced the prospect of demolition in the face of modernity and post-war sweeping away of the old. Today that building still stands in its High Victorian splendor while also being restored and adapted to be a 21st century hotel meeting the needs of today.

So I am not suggesting that our history be set in aspic.  I am suggesting that in a world of new architecture that reflects our modern times, we remember that when it comes to the built environment, the past is at the core of who we are and that it provides the depth, texture and context to our present and our future!

Happy New Year!

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel