Newbold Beeches

 

Copy of photograph (Mrs Howells/K Hunt)

Newbold Beeches ( Mrs Howells/K Hunt)

Newbold Beeches was an imposing mansion built on a hilltop site overlooking the Leam and most parts of North Leamington.  The house was sited on a parcel of land acquired from Lady Willes, on the side of a steep hill.  To create a sufficiently large flat site some quite serious engineering work was required. A notch was cut into the hill at the rear of the site down into the underlying sandstone rock.

Retaining Barrel Vault/Mick Cullen

Retaining Barrel Vault (M Cullen)

To support the front of the plot, a substantial double wall was built, in the form of a brick barrel vault, to provide the strength required to hold back the hillside.  The most curious aspect of the wall is that barrel vaulting is usually used as a roof, resembling the the underside of a canal bridge. There are examples of barrel vaulting to be found on the Internet, but none are in vertical alignment, as this wall is.  This wall was built with the curve against the hillside at the rear and a flat wall at the front with air holes at intervals to ventilate the space so created. The two walls are approximately an arm’s-length apart at the vent tested.  This unusual form of retaining wall seems to have stood the test of time exceptionally well,  having taken the weight of a substantial stone fronted building for around 100 years.  Now the only load is the occasional dog walker.The author of this unusual construction, Mr William Alfred Adams, was the town surveyor of the time, the  man usually remembered chiefly for loading Victoria Bridge with stone slabs to steady it during the 1848 floods.  (the stone slabs were taken from the work in progress at All Saints Church which then almost always had ‘work in progress’).

Sales Plan 1873, WCRO

Sales Plan 1873, WCRO

In its heyday Newbold Beeches was a large imposing house on a commanding site but like many a large house, became too large for modern usage and finally fell to the vandals, along with nearby mansion Newbold Comyn.  Newbold Beeches had the usual grand rooms on the front overlooking both the town of Leamington and the Willes and Somerville families at Newbold Comyn: all things considered, a perfect gentleman’s residence.

The house appears to have taken several years to complete.  Whether this was due to the complexity of the site or some other reason is unknown but there are clues which suggests long-winded construction, the first being the difficulties of the site, which must have been a major exercise before a brick of the house could be laid.   It also seems curious that a paid employee of the town living in a small terraced house in Wise Street could afford to build a grand house to rival those of the major families in the town.   This apparent mystery could be answered by the fact that Mr Adams as town surveyor was in a position to ask and receive the best services from local builders.  The starting date is not known,  but Adams, William Alfred is listed in directories as living at Newbold Beeches in 1866. It is  possible that Mr Adams owned the site from 1850 onwards, although work only started on the house in 1864 when Gascoyne and Sons, major local builders, began building the “elegant mansion” designed by W.A. Boyceous.  In 1999, Christies of London sold a painting of the house, but sadly, no image of it is now available.  The artist, named as W. A. Bouluois, was someone with a remarkably similar name to that of the architect, so it may be that this painting was part of the original proposal.

Mr Adams is listed as living in the house by 1863, but in 1867 the house was advertised for sale in the Times of 28 May 1867 and again on 15 May 1871.  By 1873 the house was being offered yet again by Messrs Cook and Sons, local estate agents, and this time it seems to have attracted a buyer, a Mr James McKenzie.  The evidence seems to suggest that the house was something of a speculative venture, or  alternatively Mr Adams overreached himself.  He soon sold on, but none of his successors lasted very long either. James McKenzie lasted around 10 years as owner, followed in 1883 by Mr JC Stevenson.  Mr RC Wallace Wilson owned the house from 1890 until 1901, when William Mynors Smythe  purchased it.

Grounds 1873, WCRO

Grounds 1873, WCRO

One of the problems with the house must have been the fact that the stables and coach house had been built a good distance from the house, at the end of the drive, almost at the bottom of the hill. This problem was solved to some extent in 1902 by the building of two cottages next to the stables, presumably for the staff involved with the horses and coaches.  When Mrs Mynors Smythe died in 1927 the house and contents were again put up for sale, in two lots, with the two cottages, stables and coach house split off from the main house, along with all the land below the wall, the tennis court and the hothouses.   The main house became the property of Mr Carinish who may have been responsible for the division of the estate.  By 1929 the house had become a training school for domestic servants under the authority of the Ministry of Pensions and Labour.   It would seem that it was intended as the first of a nationwide series of such schools, designed to help alleviate the unemployment situation.  Later, hairdressing was added to the curriculum.  For a while, it became a cookery school, attended by young women from far and wide.

Post WW2, the house became home to various government agencies, National Insurance being the one remembered by most people, as they required a National Insurance number before they could begin employment.  GPO telephone engineers were another group to use the house for their offices.

Photo: M Cullen

Photo: M Cullen

By 1970 most of the occupants had moved out to more suitable accommodation elsewhere in Leamington and the house became a target for vandals, needing several thousand pounds to repair the damage.  Warwick District Council bought the house in 1972 from  the Secretary of State for the Environment,  presumably to go with the Campion Hills which they had bought in 1942.  Eventually the whole sorry saga came to an end in 1975 when the Council paid £250 to have the house demolished before vandals did it for free.

Now the site is overgrown with prolific self-seeding vegetation and difficult to interpret as the site of a grand mansion.  All that remains are the brick wall that holds up the whole hill, and the brick balustrade that fronted the garden.  A single  quince bush and Japanese knotweed are the only visible reminders of the garden’s early years.  At the top of the hill to the right of the supporting wall a series of woodland walks could still be identified until a few years ago, but these too are now overgrown.  It has become an unofficial wildlife garden, home to badgers, foxes and muntjac deer and the occasional band of bored children.  Newbold Beeches lasted a little over 100 years as a house, but like Newbold Comyn house just down the road, was finally unable to find a useful position in the modern world.  One curious point: the dominant trees on the site are Scots pine, not beech, – so why the name Newbold Beeches?

Throughout the whole saga of the building of the house the impression is given that Mr Adams was simply the servant of the Leamington establishment.  He was an employee of the parish yet he built himself a mansion on its highest point.  He seems to have arrived from nowhere and vanished just as effectively once he had sold the house on.  The only known address for him is 3 Wise Street Terrace, where he lived prior to Newbold Beeches.   Not quite a rags to riches story, but certainly a cottage to mansion saga.  If anyone can trace Mr Adams’ birthplace or later residence, I would be grateful.

Mick Cullen

 

 

 

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