Wootton House - Dry Street

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.

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 the Wootton’s Farm which was in Lee Chapel, where Panadown is now situated – Uppermayne ran through part of the farm.).

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.

The marriage bond of Richard Wootton.
Photo looking south, digging potato trenches. Wootton House out of sight behind the hedge in the background.
Nina Humphrey
Brother-in-Law Paul Humphrey. The site of the greenhouses was the other side of the track to the right of the photo.
Nina Humphrey
Looking north towards Dry Street. Our children, Mark and Michelle, pretending to help.
Nina Humphrey
A heavy bucket of compost carried by Colin's sister Susan (left) and Maureen.
Nina Humphrey

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  • Hi, this is a message for Heather Wax – are you related to Heidi? As well as Ken and Margaret, Mandy and Michael? Our house was the first house you’d pass as you drove to Wootton House…..when we were children my Mum would often call Bert to let him know the cows had escaped again from the fields and were in our garden rubbing their noses on our windows….my sister and I always found this funny when it happened! I also remember your Dad from when we were children playing with Mandy and Michael and sometimes Heidi over Westley Heights.

    By Luisa Stallard (nee Pead) (14/11/2020)
  • Heather, I am sorry to hear of the passing of Alan Gray, my old classmate at Langdon Hills. You mention that his mother was a rebel (and she certainly sounds like it for that era) who moved from place to place and job to job. That certainly would explain Alan’s sudden disappearance in what I think must have been 1944. Do you have any idea where the family moved to and how Alan spent the rest of his life. I always had the impression that, in those days, the few inhabitants of Langdon Hills — the ‘up past the Crown folk’ not the Johnee come lately’s on the lower slopes — were very clannish and secretive. One got the impression that there were generations of births, marriages, and deaths and untold scandals that were never mentioned to ‘outsiders’. At least that’s how it seemed back then.

    By Alan Davies (05/07/2020)
  • Alan Gray was son of Beatrice Gray. She was Bert Gray’s sister. A rebel by all accounts, first woman to wear trousers and ride a motorcycle in the area, also a single mother who never divulged who Alan’s father was. She moved to various jobs hence Alan went to various schools. He sadly passed about 3yrs ago.

    By Heather Wax (03/07/2020)
  • Heather, that sounds very much like Alan Gray, my disapearing classmate. Yes, if Alan did not come from Dry Street itself he certainly came from that area. He would have been born in 1934 which, as you say, would make him eighty this year. He disapeared during our final year at Langdon Hills school 1944-1945.

    Haslett’s Farm? As you proceed down Dry Street from the High Road with Dry Street Cottages on the left, the road shortly takes a left hand bend. Was Haslett’s Farm on the right hand side as the road turns left? I remember walking that direction on a September/October evening and seeing them harvesting on that farm. Helping them out was my friend Alan Burr who lived at 2, Dry Street Cottages. All three of us, all Alans, were in the same class at Langdon Hills. Or perhaps the road has changed completely by now.

    By Alan Davies (01/07/2014)
  • Did Alan Gray come from Dry Street?  What sort of year are you talking about?

    My Dad’s cousin is Alan Gray just turned 80 this year.

    My dad is Roy Gray brought up on Hasletts Farm Dry Street.  His Father Bill or William was brother of Bert Gray

    By Heather Wax (30/06/2014)
  • Hi Alan. Maybe your friend Alan Gray passed the 13 plus exam and was whisked off to Grammar School. That happened to a girl in my year who I was friendly with. She simply disappeared and years later I found out what had happened. I think I have traced your friend in the births, marriages and deaths records. He was born Alan W J Gray in 1934 at Orsett. He married Pauline Pegley in 1957 in Thurrock. They had three children (Janey, Anthony and Susan). I’m not sure whether he was related to Bert Gray, but I will make some enquiries as I have one or two connections.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (21/09/2013)
  • Hi Alan. I can’t resist a mystery, be it a haunted house or a disappearing class mate. I should have asked how old you were when Alan disappeared and from which school. I was thinking of the 13 plus rather than the 11 plus. (I must pay more attention). We were offered that in the second year at Laindon High Road School. Some accepted and sat the exam but I didn’t bother as I was settled and happy where I was. Those who passed (including the friend of mine who disappeared) were sent swiftly off to Grammar School mid-year. 

    If Alan disappeared from Langdon Hills School, then maybe his family simply moved to another area. I am waiting to hear back from a member of Burt Gray’s family (a friend of my daughter) who is making some enquiries into her family tree.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (21/09/2013)
  • Hi Nina.  Are you sure you are not related to Sherlock Holmes? The facts that you can tease out of who knows what or where is impressive. Yes that is Alan Gray. Born in 1934 as were all of my classmates. We only remained at Langdon Hills School until age eleven and a half so I am afraid the eleven plus disappearance does not hold up. In any case the disappearance was in the middle of a school year as I remember. Good work, Sherlock!

    By Alan Davies (21/09/2013)
  • Mention is made of a farmer, Bert Gray. 

    My class at Langdon Hills school contained an Alan Gray who was one of those lads living “up the Hill.” In the middle of a school term he simply disapeared. Disapeared completely. Not a mention from anyone. Not a word! Never saw him again! 

    Probably my friend Alan Burr of 2 Dry Street Cottages knew but I never thought to ask him that I can remember. Was Alan Gray part of Burt Gray’s family, I wonder? Whatever happened to Alan Gray? One of the little mysteries of childhood.

    By alan davies (20/09/2013)
  • A little information from various public records. 

    1. County Borough of West Ham annual report of the Medical Officer of Health and Schools Medical Officer for the year 1927.                                                                ’I have the honour to present to you my annual report for the year 1927 I am repeating the procedure of last year by including in one volume my reports upon the various health services of the council the advantage of educating the public in the subject of health has now become generally recognised the health week held in conjunction with the west ham insurance committee in october last proved a big success and was undoubtedly productive of a wave of interest in matters appertaining to hygiene the ramifications of the work of the public health department continue to extend and although the extent and importance of its activities are becoming more appreciated by the public as a whole there is need for still further advantage to be taken of existing facilities connected with preventive and curative medicine a sanatorium with accommodation for 40 children suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis has been erected at langdon hills essex and was opened for the reception of patients in november’.                                                                          The report was written as a legal document with no punctuation, common in those days. 
    2. From the National Archives (South Essex Hospital Management Committee) Langdon Hills Hospital, Laindon Site acquired by West Ham County Borough Council 1912, and hospital for child tuberculosis patients opened 1927.     Taken over 1948 by South East Essex Hospital Management Committee, and converted 1950 to take adult male tuberculosis patients from whole North East Metropolitan region. Considered as site for new hospital to serve Basildon New Town. Closed December 1957.
    By Ian Mott (20/09/2013)