Warfield Park Case Study: A Country House of One’s Own

When returning to England, how did East India Company officials and their families marry the England they imagined to that they were greeted with? For the Walsh family, on their return home they created another important place in both imagined and material terms. Warfield Park grew to be a significant family reference point, whether at home or abroad. It was not the town house, which filled the pages of their correspondence but rather the country house. Country houses had a particular resonance with East India Company officials and their families, offering up a site on which to build a sense of belonging.

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Hockenhull, Cheshire

After returning to England in 1759, Elizabeth Fowke’s brother John Walsh decided to settle and establish himself. During his final two years in India, John had worked as Secretary to Clive. On returning to England he sought out a house in relative proximity to Clive’s newly purchased Shropshire estates and purchased Hockenhull Hall in Cheshire in 1761 (see left). Hockenhull was a seventeenth-century mansion house, which still stands to the southwest of the village of Tarvin. The house had been remodelled in 1717 for Hugh Wishaw of Chester by architect Francis Smith.

Three years later John Walsh was keen to move and in late 1764 he bought Warfield Park (see below right).[1] In a letter to Robert Clive on 12 January 1765, John Walsh described how he had recently bought a house in Berkshire. Writing from his London house on Chesterfield Street, Walsh apologized to Clive for his late response, noting that he had intended to write earlier, but had been prevented ‘by a troublesome Purchase I have lately made of a House & some Land in Berkshire’.[2] For Walsh, purchasing Warfield was not simple. In his opinion, the house at point of purchase was incomplete and he was compelled to make ‘several other Purchases as well as enclosing some Common Land’. By making these purchases Walsh felt that he had created a ‘compleat Place’.[3]

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Warfield Park, Berkshire

In his efforts to turn Warfield into a ‘compleat Place’, Walsh appears to have developed a genuine attachment to the house. Writing to Clive in the mid-1760s he began to increasingly imagine Warfield as a place where he could offer friends refuge from the politics and pleasures of London. At a later stage Walsh reflected on how he had worked to turn Warfield Park into ‘a convenient place’ and more particularly a convenient place for Clive.[4] Indeed, when describing Warfield Park in his 1813 The History of Windsor and its Neighbourhood, James Hakewill suggested that Walsh had named Warfield ‘Plassey House’ in commemoration of Clive’s victory at Plassey.[5]  Walsh hoped that Warfield would offer Clive a sort of sanctuary, a place to ‘run down to [from London] when Shropshire was at too great a Distance’. Like his sister who desired an ‘old England’, Walsh constructed Warfield as a place where men could hunt and enjoy each other’s company. He writes to Clive of his ideas of what Warfield is and what it should be, hoping that when next in the county Clive will ‘come and hunt’ with him. Not only do his hopes reveal how Walsh and Clive retained a loving friendship, they also reveal how Walsh began to invest his country house with particular characteristics. Like England before it, Warfield became a place filled with imaginings.

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Window wall of the Saloon in the immediate aftermath of the fire of 1989 at Uppark, West Sussex. Copyright NT/Tim Stephens. The image gives some idea as of the damage that Warfield would have suffered after its fire.

In February 1766, just two years after Walsh’s purchase, a great fire afflicted Warfield and large portions of the house burned (see image included above of the fire that afflicted Uppark in West Sussex in 1989, the image gives some indication of the violence of country house fires). At the fire’s end, only the offices were left standing. Rather than demolishing the remaining house and building a new house in its stead, Walsh decided to rebuild the house, incorporating what was left. In doing so Walsh reaffirmed his attachment to Warfield. His previous investment in Warfield is expressed in his response, written unsurprisingly to Clive. Describing the destruction of the house, Walsh seems unperturbed by the financial loss he has sustained. He is also relatively unconcerned by the loss of his furniture and books although he does acknowledge it is ‘something’. What really affects Walsh is the ‘Loss of Time’. He had worked hard at making Warfield a comfortable home and his efforts had been destroyed. As is clear from the other case studies in this project, making a landed estate a ‘convenient’ and ‘compleat’ place involved much time and effort (see for example the Swallowfield Park Case Study). Walsh’s regret over the loss of time, which the burning of Warfield had afforded, underlines that this house was not an investment property, but rather was viewed by Walsh as meaningful place, as a home.[8]

In rebuilding the house Walsh benefitted from the house being ‘insured for two thousand pounds’. Wilson and Mackley have calculated that the average cost of house building ranged from £7,000 to £22,000 between 1770 and 1800, dependent on estate size.[9] They estimated that building a new house on an estate of around 3,000 to 5,000 acres cost £7,000 on average, while on a estate of 5,000 to 10,000 £12,500 was average and finally on a large estate of greater than 10,000 acres the cost of building a new house averaged around £22,000. That Walsh was pleased to have insured his house for £2,000 suggests that Warfield was a small property to begin with and that any rebuilding was likely to be modest. Yet any calculation regarding the rebuilding of Warfield Park in 1766 must also acknowledge that Walsh had large sums of money at his disposable. It was estimated that Walsh returned from India in 1760 with a fortune of £140,000.

When writing a memoir of his mother’s life, John Walsh’s grandnephew described how Walsh had employed James ‘Athenian’ Stuart (1713-1788) to complete the rebuilding.[11] He described how ‘Stuart of Athens did his Work at Warfield judiciously, converting the house into a pretty modest residence according to the wants of that day, which was much less luxurious than ours.’[12] Stuart had recently completed work on townhouses such as Spencer House (begun about 1759) and other country houses such as Hagley Hall, Worcestershire (1758) and Wimbledon Park, Surrey (1758) and continued to be in demand during the 1770s. As such, it seems unlikely, even in the late 1760s as Stuart moved into the later part of his career, that Walsh’s employment of him indicated modesty, rather investment.[13] At the same time, despite later being described by John Benn-Walsh as a ‘modest residence’, Warfield continued to hold the imagination of its residents in the late eighteenth century.

While developing his own attachment to Warfield, Walsh also encouraged others to form similar attachments to the place. He shared it not only with his friends, but also with his family. After her mother Elizabeth’s death in 1760, Walsh began to take care of his niece Margaret (1758-1836) and in consequence she spent much of her youth at Warfield.[14] As a result, Margaret developed what was to become a life-long attachment to the house.

In 1776, at the age of eighteen, Margaret journeyed out to India. She embarked on this journey in order to both join her father and brother, but also in search of a husband. From the 1670s onwards the East India Company had sought to counteract the single life experienced by their young officials by paying the passage of women willing to make the journey out to India in search of a husband.[15]  In his memoir of Margaret, her son notes from a letter written by John Walsh to Lady Clive in 1775, which described how the decision to go to India had been Margaret’s alone. Although a later letter from Margaret to her uncle John describes the expectations placed upon her (by herself and others) of finding a husband, her desire to go to India seems more complex. In the memoir, John Benn Walsh speculates that she might have been lonely with her uncle (a suggestion that later passages in the memoir contradicts) and that she dearly wished to see her father and brother.[16] Although Margaret found her first few years in India difficult, she did come to live happily there and engaged in different aspects of Indian culture. Nevertheless, a longing for something else remained, this longing manifested itself around her attachment to a particular house in England – Warfield.

As her mother dreamt of England, so Margaret dreamt of Warfield while in India. Writing to her uncle John Walsh from Calcutta on 20 April 1781, Margaret noted that ‘I have heard so much of the improvements of Warfield that I shall expect to see it quite changed by the time we return to England. I was very fond of it in the form I left it but I am persuaded you have increased its beauties.’[17] Although perhaps simply writing to flatter her uncle who had clearly supplied her with ready details of the changes he has made to Warfield, the tone of the letter suggests at their shared warmth for the place and her excitement in its improvements. Similarly, in a letter written to her uncle five years later on 3 February 1786, just before embarking for Europe, we learn how important a reference point Warfield has become for Margaret. She describes how, ‘The Residents house is just on the skirts of the town, and is an exceedingly good one, but my Brother resigned it to the officers who were stationed there, and lived entirely in Bungalows, a few miles from Benares, and so delightfully situated that they might almost lie in that particular, with your house at Warfield.’[18] In the same letter she goes on to note that ‘I reflect with singular pleasure on the new beauties & improvements I shall discover at Warfield.’[19] Warfield, rather than his London house in Chesterfield Street, was an important place for Margaret.

As the second and then the third generation of the Walsh family grew they became attached to Warfield as a particular place upon which they focused their desire for belonging. After buying Warfield in 1764, John Walsh demonstrated his increasing attachment to the house and all it represented through continual rebuilding. Even after the majority of the house was burned down in 1766, Walsh decided to rebuild rather than begin again. In his imaginings Warfield was a sanctuary to which he could invite and entertain others. His niece Margaret greatly benefited from his generosity and lived there for most of her childhood. During this time she also constructed a ready attachment to the house, which when she lived in India in her early adult years she referred to as her reference point. It was her uncle’s country house rather than his town house that she invested with notions of home and belonging. In her later life Margaret continued her connection to Warfield, investing in it anew as the next section goes on to explore.

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[1] Letters from John Walsh’s sister Elizabeth to her aunts suggest that in 1753 at least she was living at Binfield with her children Arthur (b. 1752) and Francis (1753-1819). [See British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscripts, MSS Eur D546/II, p. 51.] When Elizabeth’s third child Margaret moves to Binfield at the end of her life, however, there is no acknowledgement of this earlier connection and perhaps therefore by 1764 the family had moved elsewhere. Margaret was born in London in 1758, perhaps the family were therefore living at a London house?

[2] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscripts, Letter from John Walsh to Robert Clive, 12 January 1765, G37/33, ff.24.

[3] Letter from John Walsh to Robert Clive, 12 January 1765, G37/33, ff.24.

[4] As cited in Clive Williams, The Nabobs of Berkshire (Purley on Thames: Goosecroft Publications, 2010) p.305.

[5] James Hakewill, The History of Windsor and its Neighbourhood (London: E. Lloyd, 1813), p. 290.

[8] Walsh did buy several properties, which seemed to have been exclusively retained as investments rather than homes. For instance in 1769 he bought lands in Co. Cork from the Ogle family, who had them as part of the Anglesey estate. In 1771, Walsh purchased Co. Kerry lands and in 1774 he bought further lands from the Earl of Kerry.

[9] Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, Creating Paradise: The Building of the English Country House, 1660-1880 (London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2000), p. 294.

[11] This is collaborated in James Hakewill, The History of Windsor and its Neighbourhood (London: E. Lloyd, 1813), p. 291.

[12] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscripts, Memoir of Margaret Elizabeth Benn-Walsh, Volume 3, p. 117.

[13] For more on Stuart’s country house commissions see Julius Bryant, ‘”The Purest Taste” – James “Athenian” Stuart’s Work in Villas and Country Houses’, in Susan Weber Soros (ed.), James “Athenian” Stuart, 1713-1788: The Rediscovery of Antiquity (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 265-315.

[14] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscripts, Memoir of Margaret Elizabeth Benn-Walsh, IOR Neg 11670. Volume 1, p. 41.

[15] Anne de Courcy, The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012), p. 2.

[16] National Library of Wales, Memoir of Lady Clive, FE5, f.51.

[17] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscript, Letter from Margaret Fowke to John Walsh, 20 April 1781, MSS Eur D546/11, ff. 37.

[18] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscript, Memoir of Margaret Walsh, Photo Eur 32/1, p. 92.

[19] Memoir of Margaret Walsh, Photo Eur 32/1, p. 92.

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