The Warren in North End
Then you come to The Warren – another big house. They had a moonlight flit from there one day – people who lived there were there in the evening, but they weren’t there the next morning, run off – they disappeared over night! They hadn’t paid their rent.
Bill Wing – Memories of a Meldreth Man written in 1993
Although Old Bill may not have realised it at the time, attempting to trace the occupants of the house known to us today as The Warren has often felt like a case of there one day and gone the next. The site, and the two houses which have stood upon it, has passed through a succession of different owners but only some ever lived there whilst others sublet to tenants, some of whose names and lives remain largely unknown to us.
The census returns at first appear equally vague. The property was only latterly identified by name and its recorded location wanders between today’s North End and what in the past was sometimes called Church End. However, by cross-referencing all available records it is possible to state who was in occupation for some if not all of the last two centuries with reasonable accuracy.
We are fortunate in having been able to review a large number of legal documents relating to the property which date back to the early 1900s, albeit referencing the 1800s, and these have helped considerably in sorting out the change of ownership, some of the occupants, the conveyancing, and the names of the providers of the many mortgages and legal charges.
Similarly, we can be accurate to within a few years when dating the change of the property’s name from Hoopers to Belgrave House to The Warren, though why the name was changed and its relevance we do not know.
Our earliest reference is the 1820 Enclosure Map which shows a site of just over one acre, owned by the Manor of Sheene and in possession of William Mortlock. In the accompanying enclosure documentation, the property is named Hoopers.
The map shows a very different building from the one that now occupies the site. Then it was a working stock yard with a thatched cottage and, probably, a long barn.
Lying towards the end of a small lane and shaded by trees the property today feels secluded. However, the footpath to the front running across the neighbouring field to the River Mel behind the village church was once a more important right of way called Dukes Lane onto which the original house fronted.
As the road came into the village from Shepreth it widened to form a green before dividing. At the end of the green’s southern side, the road turned left heading past College Farm towards the church and continues in use as today’s North End. To the northern side it continued as Dukes Lane and bridged or forded the river behind the church before re-joining North End via the small road we now know as Brewery Lane. By 1820 Dukes Lane was already reduced in status to a footpath across the field but behind the church and accessing the earlier vicarage it was clearly still considered a roadway.
The first indication as to who lived at Hoopers comes from a later Abstract of Will document which gives us the following occupiers’ names:
We can find no reference to any villager named Hooper though a Reverend Francis Hooper had strong connections with nearby Orwell and Barrington, and Trinity College, Cambridge in the late 1700s.
John Taylor came from Wimpole and was married to Elizabeth Whorland (or Worland) in Meldreth in 1762. Their second child, also called John, was born in Meldreth in 1766.
In 1777 John senior makes his first appearance in the Manor of Sheene records wherein he leases a small parcel of land with a cottage and orchard, and a larger messuage, orchard and close of pasture in the village from Robert Christy of Ashwell. Almost immediately John re-leases both sites to wealthy Royston resident John Phillips. The smaller parcel of land called Stone or Stoney Slate is too small to be Hoopers and whilst some evidence points towards a site in Chiswick End its exact location is unknown. The second site is over three acres in size and is therefore too big to be Hoopers.
By 1780 John senior is listed as a householder and is entitled to vote in local and national elections. Of the three candidates, he and his twelve fellow Meldreth voters all vote for naval captain Lord Robert Manners (who won the election) and local landowner the Honourable Philip Yorke, Viscount Royston, Earl of Hardwicke in preference to the previously successful candidate Sir Sampson Gideon who now received not a single Meldreth vote.
John senior passed away in 1783 but in 1789 the same parcel of land in Stone Slate is again re-leased by his son John and his widowed mother Elizabeth to fellow villager Edward Hawkes.
In 1798 the newly permanent Land Tax assessed John as occupying land valued at nineteen shillings. This property is almost certainly Hoopers.
Fortunately for John the threshold for taxation was land valued at twenty shillings and above. Whilst John Taylor is the occupier, he is not the owner. He is a tenant of John Janeway who, in turn, leases Hoopers from the Manor of Sheene.
Whilst there are Janeways in several surrounding villages other than this Land Tax assessment there are no other references to a Janeway in Meldreth. This is not unusual since records frequently show village property owned or leased by wealthy individuals from neighbouring villages and even further afield, and, as we will see, Hoopers was no exception.
John Taylor fades away from the records by 1800 and at some time before 1820 Hoopers came into the possession of William Mortlock. Indeed, the 1820 Enclosure Act documentation describes it as the homestead belonging to and occupied by William Mortlock. A businessman and substantial landowner within the village, William was Lord of the Manor of Veyseys and remained so until his death in 1833.
The use of the word belonging requires clarification since the actual owner of Hoopers was still the Manor of Sheene. Therefore William, like John Janeway before him, was the lessee, or copyholder.
Similarly, the word occupied is open to interpretation. It is entirely possible William once occupied Hoopers but for how long we know not. As a wealthy Lord of the Manor and London-based businessman it would seem unlikely he lived in an old farm cottage for very long, particularly as we know he spent his later years in the far more imposing and, to him, recently built Manting House next to the church on the High Street.
Following William’s death his trustees, acting on the instructions contained in his will, divided his estate and property, which included Lot 1, Manting House, and Lot 5, Hoopers, and was put up for sale.
The land agent’s sale map shows the same two larger buildings as those on the 1820 Enclosure map but with additional outhouses. The sales brochure advises potential buyers that Hoopers comprises a pleasant cottage… with a stockyard, barn, granary, stable, piggeries and cattle sheds.
Simeon Mortlock and his fourth wife Sarah Wedd
For the sum of £210 the purchaser was the then tenant Simeon Mortlock – in a typically complex family tree Simeon’s father James was William Mortlock’s cousin.
Although Simeon is described in various Meldreth-related documentation as a freeholder this would not have applied to Hoopers since the sales document continues to show the site as under manorial ownership. Instead, in a straightforward legal process, the lease to Hoopers would have been surrendered back to the Manor of Sheene and immediately re-leased to the next purchaser. We can reasonably assume Simeon held the freehold to another site elsewhere either in the village or nearby.
At some point, probably in the latter half of the 1800s, the Mortlock family must have purchased the Deed of Enfranchisement releasing Hoopers from manorial ownership and taking possession of the freehold but exactly which family member, and when, is not yet known.
Simeon was born in or around 1800 and his life is easily traced through village documents and census returns between 1834 and his death in 1867. Always listed as a farmer he also dealt in the sale of corn whilst one obscure record records him selling dung.
Although the property is not named the census returns of 1841, 1851, and 1861 all indicate Simeon and his family living at Hoopers. In 1871 his widow Sarah, her stepson William, and their domestic servant Hannah Rayner are still in residence before each going their separate ways.
The census return of 1881 records Charles Robert Flitton, a Corn Dealer from Northamptonshire, now living in the property.
Although Charles was born outside the county the Flittons were, infact, another local family of means. William Scruby Flitton, Charles’ grandfather, was born in Abington Piggotts and once lived in Malton House between Meldreth and Orwell.
By 1869 William had sold all his business interests in Meldreth and retired first to Bedford and later to Cambridge.
In 1871 Charles Flitton first relocates to North End living a few doors along from the Sailor’s Return public house. Outwardly he appears to be successful in business selling grain and employing three men and a boy on his farmland. By 1881, and now living at Hoopers, he is in the same line of work but within two months of the census being taken he ran into financial difficulties. His assets of furniture and farm stock were put into liquidation and he moved away to Saffron Walden.
We have no record of when the old cottage and the name Hoopers were lost, but it was probably after 1881 and certainly before 1886 as the Ordnance Survey map published that year shows today’s building, then named Belgrave House.
What appears as a long rear extension to the house is, in fact, a series of outdoor barns or storerooms. Not represented on later maps, there is a narrow walkway between these storerooms and the house itself. Mostly half-timbered with brick foundations, it seems likely these were built in the mid-1800s. One of the storerooms has a large arched wooden beam supporting the roof rafters. Arched beams of this size were typically used in houses, not outdoor storerooms, and are often considered a higher status piece of carpentry. It is extremely likely this beam was salvaged from an older property within the village and re-purposed.
The simplest questions to ask when researching the history of any house in Meldreth are always the same. Who built it, why did they build it, and when did they build it? The older the building, the more difficult it is to know, but despite the relatively young age of this house we have precisely no answers. It is generally considered Belgrave House was built by William Mortlock’s grandson John George Mortlock though a later Abstract of Will document from 1926 casts some doubt on that theory. Within the text it states the property known as Belgrave House was sold in 1896 to John George Mortlock, the purchaser, by his cousin Charles Mortlock Waller, the vendor.
Born and raised in Meldreth, farmer and maltster Charles Mortlock Waller had given up country living sometime in the 1880s, relocating to addresses either side of the Thames in London and driving coaches. Still referred to as a Gentleman in various documents it seems possible he was responsible for building Belgrave House.
The most recent occupier in 1891 is retired brewer William M Waller and his wife Caroline, the daughter of Henry Clear, another prominent Meldreth landowner.
Once again, the Mortlock connection is maintained since William M Waller is, unsurprisingly, William Mortlock Waller, the older brother of Charles Mortlock Waller ergo the grandson of William Mortlock and a cousin of John George Mortlock.
Entering a period beginning in the late 1800s, household-related documents demonstrate the property being re-mortgaged by the Mortlock family and their business associates, and renaming Belgrave House as The Warren, before finally selling the freehold to the property which was, again, re-mortgaged and re-sold by subsequent owners.
The paper trail is lengthy and legalistic but begins in:
February 1896: Conveyed by Charles Mortlock Waller of New Kent Road, London to John George Mortlock for the sum of £850.
March 1896: John George Mortlock re-mortgages the property for the amount of £650. Instead of banks and building societies, mortgages then were often supplied by private individuals; presumably as interest-bearing investment opportunities. In this instance the mortgage was provided by John’s cousin Clara Louisa Mortlock of Caxton Hall and Henry Dalton Nash of Royston. John and Clara were apparently close and shared a passion for the advancement of education and the schooling system. Henry Dalton Nash was a Royston-born solicitor and a partner in the legal firm of Wortham and Nash whose offices were on Royston High Street.
1901: The property is now named The Warren and the tenant is William Law Drake-Brockman, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, his wife Avis and their two daughters.
1904: Robert Towers is in residence (ref. Kelly’s Directory).
1906-07: The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams rents The Warren in the summer of 1906 and so enjoyed his stay he and his first wife Adeline returned the following year. Formerly an undergraduate in Cambridge, Ralph also met Adeline whilst studying at Trinity College and perhaps they first encountered the former Belgrave House on a day trip out of the city.
1910: According to the 1910 Land Values assessment the occupier is a Hart J Russell who proves to be untraceable, and the owner is John George Mortlock of The Court.
1911: The Warren is listed in the enumerator’s 1911 census book as unoccupied.
1912: Mrs Louisa Hadow Jenkins, a widow, is the tenant in residence (ref. Kelly’s Directory).
February 1913: Clara Louise Mortlock and Henry Dalton Nash transfer the mortgage to the new partnership of Clara Louisa Mortlock and Daniel Barley Balding. A surgeon and coroner and JP, Daniel lived in The Beeches, a former large residence across the road from Royston Town Hall. His immediate neighbour is divorcee Elizabeth Bailey … John George Mortlock’s older sister.
October 1914: John George Mortlock writes his will appointing his daughter Georgina Blanche Rochford Mortlock and his friend John Nash-Woodham as his executors. The Nash-Woodhams were another important local family who held the Manors of Docwras and Tyrells in Shepreth and further large estate in Fowlmere.
1916: Mrs Jenkins is still in residence. Her yearly rent is forty-five pounds and ten shillings.
1917: John George Mortlock passes away.
1917: Jeanette Marian Hartwell is in residence with her mother Louisa Hadow Jenkins. Also widowed, both she and her mother were born in India and their respective husbands were senior military officers. Louisa’s father, General Frederick Young, in 1815, raised the Sirmoor Battalion – the first Ghurka regiment to fight for the British. Of no less interest, it was he who introduced the growing of potatoes to the Himalayas!
December 1919: Clara Mortlock and Daniel Barley Balding transfer the mortgage and five acres of land on the Orwell Road to Jessie Fanny Shillitoe for the sum of £746.
Jessie was the wife of Hitchin solicitor Francis Rickman Shillitoe who had previously worked in the Hertfordshire Coroner’s court alongside Daniel Barley Balding. It should come as no surprise by now to learn that Jessie’s maiden name was Mortlock. Born in Caxton she was the daughter of Charles Anthony Mortlock, sister of Clara Louisa, and a niece of John George Mortlock.
1920: The Manor of Flambards records refer to a Freehold House called The Warren though in what capacity is unclear.
February 1921: Jessie Francis Shillitoe re-mortgages the property with her cousin Georgina Mortlock and John Nash-Woodham lending the monies.
July 1921: Georgina Mortlock and John Nash-Woodham finally bring the Mortlock connection to an end and sell the freehold of The Warren to Mrs Fairlie Winship of Hinxton, formerly of Northumberland. In the same month Mrs Winship, with her husband Charles Edward Winship acting as guarantor, re-mortgages The Warren with Mary Isabella Harris, a widow from Northamptonshire, and solicitor Herbert Linnell of London for £1100. Charles Winship passes away a year later though Fairlie continues to live at The Warren.
The Harris family of Wootton Hall in Northamptonshire were large landholders as were Mary Isabella’s father’s family in Northumberland. Herbert Linnell’s ancestor John Linnell was an associate of the artist William Blake and owned the original copper engraving plates of the illustrations for Dante’s Inferno. Leaving no instruction in his will, in 1937 the plates were recovered from a shed in Herbert’s garden.
April 1926: Fairlie Winship sells The Warren to Mrs Thekla Josephine Sandys-Wunsch of the Swan Inn, Harston, for £1375.
Thekla’s husband Donald Frederick Sandys-Wunsch was a highly regarded chemical engineer and factory manager. Following his travels to Canada and West Africa he had returned to the UK buying two acres of orchard in Cambridgeshire before emigrating with Thekla to New Zealand to further his illustrious career. Knowing the move to New Zealand was imminent Thekla appoints Arthur Rutter, an estate agent on Sidney Street in Cambridge, to act as her attorney and manage The Warren’s affairs and future sale in her absence.
May 1929: Thekla Sandys-Wunsch sells The Warren to Michael McGuire and his wife Ellie Henrietta McGuire from near Chichester for £1120.
Major Michael Joseph McGuire OBE was a retired Army officer. Both he and his wife Ellie hailed from Eire. Living with them was their daughter Mary Veronica McGuire. Following the death of her father in 1942 and her mother in 1943, Mary subsequently inherited The Warren. Legal paperwork completed shortly afterwards was witnessed by Georgina’s sister Mary Jaqueline Rochford Mortlock of The Court.
Earlier, in 1940, Mary McGuire when writing her will, appointed Charles Schwier, a farmer from St Ives, as Executor and stipulated that her estate was to be left to her brother Major Michael Vincent McGuire.
In an interesting parallel to life as it once was in Meldreth, Mary’s brother Michael, his wife Euphemia, and her parents had all emigrated to Canada to develop and work in the new booming orchard industry. As large-scale pioneer farmers they were partly responsible for the planting of a million fruit trees in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and their family business survives to this day.
There is no further mention of Michael McGuire in any of the later Warren paperwork. He outlived his sister by thirteen years but whether or not he received his inheritance is a mystery.
1939: The census records Major and Mrs McGuire in residence. Also shown at the address is Ann Kilmartin who is providing unpaid domestic duties. Mrs McGuire is described as incapacitated and Ann may have been helping to nurse her.
1950: Veronica McQuire (sic) is living at The Warren. Between 1947 and 1951 Mary McGuire re-mortgaged The Warren on four more occasions with lenders coming from as far afield as Yeovil and Leamington Spa. The final loan of £3000 was made by the Trustees of the Cambridge Independent Order of Oddfellows and was repaid by Mary’s Executor Charles Schwier after she passed away in Addenbrookes in 1960.
As many of us know, a property mortgage today may last for decades whereas to Mary McGuire they seemed more like short-term low interest loans. Why she needed them is unknown to us nor how she funded them. The only evidence of her having employment was forty years earlier when the 1911 census describes her as a school mistress. Who knows? Maybe she played the stock market!
May 1960: The freehold sale with vacant possession by direction of the Executor of Miss McGuire deceased is conducted by Januarys estate agents at the Lion Hotel in Petty Cury, Cambridge. Handwritten notes on the sale document recall the names of some of the previous occupants including McGuire, Wunsch and Winship and the tenants called Jenkins.
June 1960: Charles Schwier conveys The Warren to Mrs Molly Russell Thomas.
Born Molly Russell MacArthur and trained as a physiotherapist, she was married to Daniel Llewellyn Thomas, a surveyor, and prior to moving to Meldreth lived in The Gables on Baldock Street in Royston. Now demolished, a photo of the Gables shows it incorporated the historic ornate metal gates which were later donated to the town by Daniel. Marked by a commemorative blue plaque they now guard the entrance to the Priory Gardens in Royston.
Molly and Dan Thomas are still remembered in the village – Molly as a keen golf player and Dan as a portly gentleman who marched rather than walked through the village. Such was his manner the children affectionately nicknamed him “The Squire”.
Living to the grand old age of one hundred Molly Russell Thomas passed away in Letchworth in 2012.