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Alderson House – A Brief History

Alderson House, Warwick is an imposing Georgian style 3 story building standing on the South Side of High Street at its junction with Back Lane, in the centre of the town. The building was purchased in 1961 by Alderson House (Warwick) Ltd., a holding company, which manages and maintains the building on behalf of a number of local Masonic Lodges. It is named Alderson House in honour of Gerald Graham Alderson FRCS, a prominent Warwickshire Mason and Benefactor.

Construction of this Grade 2 listed building commenced in 1695 following the Great Fire of Warwick which occurred on June 22nd that year which destroyed an existing building. It was probably completed in 1696, the date stamped on a lead rainwater head, which can be seen to the right of the rear entrance door.

The building was given a Grade II listing in January 1953 and forms part of a group with all the buildings on the South side of High Street:  Building number: 307475.

The listing describes its outstanding features as follows:

“Probably early C18 2 storey plus attic 7 window red brick facade with painted stone or stucco dressings. Sashes in cased frames with key blocks, glazing bars. Moulded plinth, moulded cornice at eaves plain string band at first floor level. Central 6-flush-panel door with good semi-circular fanlight, bolection moulded architrave, keystone, entablature. Roof of old tiles having three dormers with moulded pediments. Staircase post-1694.”

The date of 1696 which can be seen on the rainwater head is therefore probably correct for the completion of the house. This rainwater head was subject to comment by Pevsner (1966), who described High Street from the direction of Castle Street. He states “(from Back Lane) there is then a sequence of nice brick facades” and adds a footnote “No 23, rainwater head 1696”.

Whilst constructed in the latter part of the 17th Century its origins can be traced back several hundred years to the mid 14th Century. Records show that Thomas Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick acquired the then existing Tudor property from a John le Boteller.

 The Boteller family hailed from Wem in Shropshire but had links to Warwick, John le Boteller’s grandfather, also called John, having married Eleanor de Beauchamp of Alcester, Warwickshire. (Anne de Beauchamp the daughter of Richard, 13th Earl of Warwick married Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, known as the King Maker)  At that time the house was described as having a lane to ‘le Breteyne’ (later Black lane and now known as Back Lane) on one side. 

In 1352 the Earl let the property to a William Thorp for 10s (50p) p.a.

Other records show the continued use of the site in the ownership of several local people, the estate of the Earl having reverted to the crown in 1590. (The estates of Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, were taken by the Crown when he was imprisoned in the Tower 1459. Under Henry VII and Henry VIII the Warwick estate remained Royal property. Edward VI granted the Estate to John Dudley, Earl of Warwick in 1547; he was executed by Mary I in 1553 but was succeeded, after the accession of Queen Elizabeth, by his son, Ambrose, created Earl of Warwick in 1561. When Ambrose Dudley died without surviving issue in 1590, the Estate reverted to the Crown)

By 1694 the ownership had passed to a Mr Isaac Tomkys and at the time of the fire is described as having been ‘late built’ although we have no idea what it looked like.  It was clearly not entirely of brick and was probably a large Tudor half-timber style building having a thatched roof but with a brick or stone base. Evidence of this stone base can be seen in the Tudor bricks forming part of the current cellar vaulting. The house was completely destroyed, along with many other houses in High Street and the surrounding area.

 (An example of the type of houses existing in Warwick at that time can be seen in Castle Street. ‘Thomas Oken’s House’, now a tea room and several nearby properties, survived the fire but in accordance with new regulations had their thatch replaced with tiles)

Contemporary account of the Great Fire of Warwick, June 1695:

…a sudden fire, which broake out about two of the clock in the afternoon on the fifth of this instant September, in the western part of the towne of Warwick, which by the violence of the wind was soe swiftly carried through the principall parts of the same that noe opposition could be made to hinder the fierceness of its progress, till it had in few hours consumed almost all of the High street, the Church Street and the Sheep street intirely, part of the Jury Street, New street, and many buildings about the Market House, together with the great and antient church of St Maryes and severall other buildings on other parts of the towne…

Following the fire Isaac Tomkys received compensation for the loss of his property amounting to £2724 – 7s – 6d (£2724 – 37p) approximately £213,000 in today’s monetary values, which allowed him to construct a new house, the current number 23.

However, the design was strictly regulated by the Fire Commissioners appointed under the Warwick Town Act passed to ensure the effective rebuilding of the town; “two storeys of 10 feet in height each with cellars and garrets” which resulted in the facades which can still be seen along High Street and Jury Street to this day. Many of the commissioners’ decisions were based on the experience of fires in other towns, especially Northampton which occurred in 1675. As a result the High Street was also widened to act as a fire break and Mr Tomkys received additional compensation for the loss of 12ft 6in (3.8mtrs) from his land. This additional amount brought the total sum Isaac received to £362,000 in today’s value.

As we know from records that the average amount of compensation for a standard house was £40 (about £500,00 today) it appears that Isaac Tomkys was a wealthy man, not only owning a house of such size but also having the means to run and maintain it. It suggests that he had a net worth equivalent to £8 million. There is no doubt he was a wealthy man, as Charity Commission records from the period show that both he and his wife Jane made regular charitable donations for the relief of the poor in their home town of Bilston, Staffordshire.

It is not known who actually built the house but the commissioners employed surveyors to ensure that all conformed to their regulations. Samuel Dunkley, a mason, was regularly employed in this work, and was aided at various times by John Phillips of Broadway (Worcs.), carpenter, and William Smith, bricklayer.

Whilst the external walls of the house were built of brick according to the regulations there were no similar instructions covering the interior. Whilst building with bricks had been introduced in Roman times they were at this time still quite expensive and of variable quality, having to be made from local materials.  The material was not entirely trusted, hence the employment of a carpenter who would ‘strengthen’ the interior walls by inserting wooden beams, as evidenced by recent examination of the structure prior to the installation of a lift in the centre of the building.

The builders may have had good reason for this mix of materials, for Edward Strong, who was a master mason with Sir Christopher Wren, was also employed in Warwick at this time where he worked on St Mary’s Church, which had also been destroyed by the fire. He had come to the conclusion that Warwick stone was unsuitable for large buildings as it could not be relied on to carry any great weight. He recommended the use of harder stone from nearby Shrewley.

The carpenter would also make the other fittings for the house including the door frames and door. Some of the original doors are still in place and can be identified by their narrow width and the ‘L’ shaped iron hinges. (One of these original doors can be seen at the entrance to the board room off the first floor landing)

By 1707 Isaac Tomkys had died and records for that date show that the 20s (£1) copyhold rent was being paid by Jane Tomkie (= Tomkys), his widow.

The earliest surviving deeds are dated 1722 when the property was described as a capital “messuage” or mansion house and was still occupied by Jane Tomkys, widow. In 1745 it was mortgaged for £400 by William Tomkys and had “a coach house, stable, garden, courts, yards, backsides and appurtenances”.

In 1752 now well complete as a mansion, together with the outbuildings and garden the house was bequeathed by William to his nephew, Hope Tomkys. In 1759 a small piece of land (285 sq. yds.) was sold for £30 and added to the adjoining property and in 1763 the property was purchased by Lord Brooke, Earl of Warwick.

The Commoners Rolls (the ownership of the property included the right to graze a cow and a horse on St. Marys Common – now the town racecourse) commenced in 1698 and from 1755 they list both the owner and occupier. These show that in 1781 the Earl leased the property to Rev. William Daniel for 99 years at £284-5s-0d (£284-25p) + 2/6d (12.5p)p.a., when it was tenanted by Mary Shuckburgh, widow and was described as “a messuage or tenement, with brewhouse, stable, coach house, garden and appurtenances”

Later occupiers are shown as: 1804 – Rev. and Mrs. W. Daniel, 1824 – Mrs Daniel, 1842 – 1852 – Back (or Buck) and Barker and 1871 – N. G. Fetherston.

It is unclear when the building passed from the ownership of the Earl of Warwick but this may well have been in 1880 at the expiration of the lease, suggesting that a Mr Henry Richards, manufacturer, purchased the property from the Earl, as he is shown as the occupier in 1881

The building had a number of tenants from 1881 until 1914 including;

1881 -– 82 Henry Richards, manufacturer
1883 – 84 T B Dickinson Esq.
1885 – Mrs J Lloyd
1887 – 88 Rev. Allan Edward
1889 – 1905 Major W T E Fosbury J.P. and (1904) Captain Paulet
1906 – 1909 Major Edward Burn-Callender.
1911 – Venerable Rev. J H F Peile, archdeacon of Warwick
1913 – Honourable B S S Foster and Hon. Mrs Foster
In 1914 it was purchased by The Right Honourable Lord (Balthazar Stephen Sargent) Ilkeston who had been appointed Stipendiary Magistrate of Birmingham in 1910 and succeeded to the title of 2nd Baron Ilkeston on the death of his father on 31st January 1913.

Lord and Lady Ilkeston continued to occupy the property until Lady Ilkeston’s death in 1956, Lord Ilkeston having died in 1952.

At present there are no records currently available detailing occupants/owners between 1956 and 1961 apart from a note held by Heritage England, dated August 1950, stating “to be turned into a bank when vacated by Lord Ilkeston”. Whether any alterations to the building took place during this time is uncertain but it was probably then that the outbuildings adjoining Back Lane were removed and the garden redeveloped into a parking area.

There is no doubt that the interior has been altered by various occupants but it can be certain that the main staircase, some oak flooring and a small number of wall panels are original features.

The exterior of the building has probably remained unchanged since the early 1700’s when it was finally completed based on the approved plans following the Great Fire. There is further evidence here that Isaac Tomkys was a wealthy, much travelled man interested in the latest trends, as the front door and fan light (which can only be seen from outside in High Street) is a direct copy of that at number 10 Downing Street which had been installed in about 1688.

The outbuildings, variously listed as a coach house, stable, garden, courts, yards, backsides brewhouse and appurtenances since 1745 continued in existence at least until the 1950’s under Lord Ilkeston’s ownership as they are included in a number of photographs of the interior and exterior taken by J B Marsh at various times between 1942 and 1950. Copies of these photographs are displayed by kind permission of Heritage England.

In 1961 the building was purchased by Alderson House (Warwick) Ltd. on behalf of a number of Masonic Lodges based in Warwick. It is named Alderson House in honour of Gerald Alderson a prominent Warwickshire Mason and Benefactor.

 

Alderson House (Warwick) Ltd. takes great care to maintain the building in accordance with the responsibilities placed on it under the terms of the buildings Grade II listing. Whilst normally closed to the public it is available for private functions.

 

Frank Collier
Archivist – Alderson House.

 

Grateful thanks are extended to Heritage England – National Monuments Records and Warwickshire County Record Office for their assistance in compiling these notes.

Special thanks are due to Mr. Steven Wallsgrove of Warwick for allowing access to his extensive records of Warwick Town Buildings.

Ref: ‘The Buildings of Warwickshire’, Pevsner, N and Wedgwood, A. Penguin Books, London. (1966).