This large five bedroom house, built in 1890, was known in recent years as Wootton House Kennels and could be reached from Dry Street by turning south into its long driveway. I’ve heard the business had a good reputation and that people who boarded their pets there were pleased with the care and helpfulness of the staff.
I’d never seen the place myself. The closest I came was in 1978 when we rented an allotment just a few yards along the drive to the left. Several allotments had been made available here by farmer Bert Gray and were eagerly ‘snapped up’. A lot of hard work went into preparing our ‘vegetable patch’. We also had fun at weekends when various family members came along to lend a hand. We grew potatoes, sprouts, beetroot etc., but soon realised that in our absence these crops were being enjoyed by pigeons, rabbits and various insects. The only thing that escaped being nibbled was the beetroot; however these were frequently uprooted by moles in search of juicy earthworms. Lack of running water on site also proved a big problem and the persistent couch grass was almost impossible to eradicate, so after about two years, we and the other allotment holders decided to leave ‘The Good Life’ to Tom and Barbara, picked the last few brussel sprouts, downed tools and admitted defeat.
Wootton House has significance in our family for two reasons. Firstly because my grandfather (Henry Richard Devine) had regularly delivered the post there during his 25 years as a Laindon postman (1927 – 1952). Also, my husband’s cousin, Vic Bentley, had been a patient there in the early forties when it was a TB Sanatorium.
Much has been written about the history of the sanatorium which can be found online. The Basildon History website has a particularly good account including several excellent photographs. http://www.basildon.com/history/langdonhills/lhs.html
Wootton House dates back to Victoria times. I began to wonder who had lived there in the past and felt sure it must have been a farm at one time.
One Sunday in August this year (2013), we decided to go exploring and see the place for ourselves. Upon arrival we could see the house was having some restoration work done as scaffolding was in place. There are several new builds in the area and as we parked the car at the end of the long drive, a resident walked towards us. He was very friendly and when we explained the purpose of our visit he was happy to show us around and even lent us a step ladder so we could see over a panel fence that had been erected in front of the old ward block.
We were delighted to see the wards retain their original doors and windows and were being utilised by the current owner. We could almost imagine the resident children sitting outside in the sun and my grandfather in his postman’s uniform walking up to the big house with his mailbag to deliver the daily post where I am sure letters from home were eagerly awaited. We were shown the old school house and the area where the kitchen had been. Further across, we could see the water tower and to the west of the ward block we were amazed to see the air raid shelter still in position. It was sobering to think of the children having to climb down there in the dark during air raids. They certainly had two dreadful enemies to contend with, TB and Hitler.
Unfortunately the house itself which had provided accommodation for the nursing staff isn’t listed. Originally it had four chimneys, one on each corner, but during the current work a couple of these were removed.
The property went up for sale in the last couple of years and is now in the hands of new owners. A link for the estate agent’s description and some photos of inside the house can be seen here:
After taking some photographs, we stopped by the area where the greenhouses had once been and then headed for home. I decided to do a bit of research and discovered that the area had once been a fruit farm. We know the building in its 100 acre of land opened as The West Ham TB Sanatorium on 26th October 1927 and closed in December 1957. By the early sixties it was in private hands and became a boarding kennels. In 1964 much of the land was bought by Essex County Council and became part of a conservation area.
I record my findings below, going backwards in time.
1929. The Electoral Register shows the occupant of Wootton House in Dry Street to be Florence Mary Noble. Also listed under “Children’s Sanatorium” are, Clara Osborne, Myra Reed, Priscilla Saddington, Dorothy Williams and Fanny Wright. (All nursing staff, I presume). Maybe there was a bungalow within the grounds of Wootton House because I found Gladys and Albert Edward Freeman, living in “The Chase” Wootton Farm, Dry Street.
1918. There’s no mention of Wootton House on this Electoral Register but I found an entry for Wootton Farm, Dry Street with occupants, Millicent and Frederick Smith. (Not to be confused with Wootton’s Farm which was situated more or less where the Gloucester Park swimming pool used to be).
1911. This Census names Wootton Farm, Dry Street, with occupants Samuel Walter Bennett, 54 year old farmer and his wife Annie Elizabeth age 51. There was one visitor and two servants in the house. Also three boarders: Septimus Theodore Watkinson aged 52 (described as an Advertising Agent), his wife Helen Emily age 50 and their daughter Nellie Gwendoline aged 12. At this time the grounds were being utilised as a fruit farm consisting of soft fruit such as gooseberries and blackcurrants along with apples and pears. Apparently Mr Bennett erected greenhouses, a barn and a horse stables.
A little about the fruit farm.
In an interview recorded in the early seventies, George Siggers of Dry Street describes how he left school in 1916 aged thirteen and a half and started work on a fruit farm in the grounds of Wootton House. Mr Bennett had retired in the early spring of 1914 and sold out to West Ham Council who had plans of opening a hospital there, although this didn’t go ahead for some time and the land was rented out. The fruit farm provided work for several women throughout the war years. The fruit business eventually wound up and the Partidge family farmed there until the Sanatorium opened. George worked there for many years along with four other men and continued as a gardener when the building became West Ham TB Sanitorium, at which time the barn and stables were demolished (1927), although the greenhouses were retained.
1901 This Census shows Thomas French aged 60 living in Wootton House, Dry Street, with his family. He is described as a ‘Wholesale leather goods manufacturer’. Earlier Census i.e. 1891 and 1881 show him living in London with his family, employing 14 men and 4 boys in his leather goods business. The items being manufactured were Portmanteaus (leather bags), cases and boxes. This business apparently became very successful enabling the family to employ both workers and servants and eventually move to the large house in the Langdon Hills countryside. At this time, the area came under Orsett and I have found the death record of: Thomas French, Orsett 1902, aged 61. I’m pretty sure that must have been him.
Although before his time, George Siggers had heard that Mr French hadn’t used local workers to pick the fruit that grew within the grounds, but had brought in contractors to do the job.
Also on the 1901 Census I found a ‘Wootton House Cottage’ in Dry Street, occupied by William Bass aged 28, described as ‘Manager of a fruit farm’. His family were: wife Elizabeth and children Elizabeth 12 and William 4.
Wootton House was built in 1890.
Going back even further, I have found a record of a ‘Marriage Bond’ dated 19th September 1751 (via Ancestry.com) for an intended marriage in a church near The Tower of London. That of Richard Wootton, a widower aged 28, described as a ‘farmer’ of Langdon Hills to Sarah Chandler, also a 28 year old widow of Langdon Hills. So it would appear the family name ‘Wootton’ was associated with farming in Langdon Hills several centuries ago.
Sadly, cousin Vic succumbed to TB on 15th March 1946 aged 18 following his older brother Alfred in 1944 aged 20. The boys had also lost their father to the disease which was aptly nick-named ‘The White Plague’.
Until his retirement in 1952, my grandfather often brought home cucumbers given to him by the staff of the sanatorium, freshly picked from the extensive greenhouses. Known by many as ‘Uncle Dick’, this postman’s arrival each morning must have been a welcome sight in Laindon and Langdon Hills long before the arrival of today’s sophisticated communication system.
I show below a few photographs of our ‘Good Life’ days at our allotment to the left of the track leading to Wootton House. The site of the sanctorum’s former greenhouses is just across the track on the right.