Warfield Park Case Study: Rebuilding Warfield

As he had no legitimate children of his own, the inheritance of his estates, including Warfield was entirely at Walsh’s behest. Although it had earlier seemed that Walsh would bequeath his estates to his good friend Sir Henry Strachey, a fierce argument between the men meant that when Walsh died in 1795 Warfield passed to his nephew-in-law, Margaret’s husband, John Benn (1759-1825).[1] John Benn was, like Walsh, an East India Company man. Like his uncle-in-law he had started working for the Company as a writer, but quickly rose up the ranks. In 1781, just four years after becoming a writer, he became Assistant to the Resident at Benares.[2] Margaret’s brother Francis Fowke had acted as Resident at Benares for eighteen months beginning 1775 and was briefly reinstated in this position in 1780 and then again in 1783.[3] During his time in Benares, John Benn must have become acquainted with Francis and possibly with his sister who moved there in 1782. In that year though Benn became Factor, before changing roles again in 1785 to become junior merchant.[4] Crucially though for the Benn-Walsh alliance, John Benn returned to England in 1786 on the Dublin with Margaret and soon after landing, they married in 1787. The wedding may well have taken place at the house rented by her uncle’s first cousin at one removed, Englefield House, Berkshire, if it had not been for Margaret petitioning her uncle for a small and intimate affair.[5] Nevertheless, while on their wedding journey, the newly married couple visited Englefield House and Lady Clive.[6]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJohn Benn had made a reputed £80,000 trading in diamonds and opium while Assistant Resident at Benares, nevertheless when John Walsh died Benn significantly enlarged his fortune by inheriting Warfield (including all the household goods, linen, furniture, china and glass ware, books and paintings contained within it) as well as his other property and land in Berkshire, Radnorshire, Cork and Kerry.[7]  Under the terms of the inheritance Benn assumed the Walsh name. As their son described it, ‘On the death of Mr Walsh, & their succeeding to his property, in March 1795, their pretty cheerful Villa at Leatherhead was given up, & they established themselves at Warfield.’[8] He went on to detail how the move to Warfield was ‘a source of great pleasure & happiness to both of them.’ For his Mother, Warfield had been a place of happiness in her childhood, but ‘she had also a strong taste for the country & the establishment of a country place.’[9] At the same time, for his Father, ‘it furnished a pursuit, and occupation, which became the principal business, and amusement of the rest of his life. The improvement of this place, & the management of his farm, objects which he pursued with his characteristic…frugality, & economy, engrossed his whole time & thoughts.’[10]

Warfield undoubtedly enjoyed the benefits of Margaret and John’s efforts to improve and manage the estate. They invested both time and money in the house over a sustained period. Sixteen years after her husband inherited the property, Margaret noted in her Memorandum book how in March 1811 she had been ‘much engaged in opening a road thro’ the shrubbery in the North-East, which is to be the approach to the new entrance in the house.’[11] Her husband had relinquished ‘this amusing employment’ to Margaret because he was ‘so much engaged in building.’[12] The division of labour, which this comment suggests, with Margaret improving the garden and John working on the house, is not consistently reflected in other sources however. According to the Memoir written by her son, Margaret was involved with the building work, allowing as it did a practical outlet for her mathematical interests. As her son described it, if he wished to ‘ascertain the quantities of roofing, & Brickwork in the erection of a range of Buildings, she was prepared to furnish me with them.’[13] Nevertheless when describing the changes in full in the memoir, Margaret and John’s son, gave full credit to his father.[14]

It seems likely, however, that the extent of the building works which Margaret and John embarked on, from around 1809 onwards, necessitated the active involvement of both.[15] On inheriting Warfield they took on a house which had primarily housed a bachelor and his visitors rather than a family. John Walsh had once described the house as his ‘Tent’ and his collection of rooms, were deemed too small and low for the newly incumbent Benn Walsh family.[16] In the memoir, John Benn Walsh described how he remembered the house ‘perfectly’ and thought that his ‘fathers additions made it more commodious within’.[17]

John Benn Walsh led the changes that took place at Warfield in the early decades of the nineteenth century. He fancied himself as an architect and set to, creating detailed plans and drawings to guide the work. As his son noted, ‘Such a task was more feasible perhaps then, as the prevailing fashion required so little ornament.’[18] Benn Walsh was significantly aided in his work by a man known as Lewis ‘a remarkably intelligent practical Builder, Joiner & working Carpenter’.[19] Accompanied and aided by his two sons, Lewis based himself on site in the old offices at Warfield for several years while the changes at Warfield gradually took place. Benn Walsh decided to affix a new house onto the old one. Lewis was primarily responsible for carrying out the joinery, carpentry and finish on the new part of the house and although Lewis’s joinery work may have provided a frame for the house it is not clear who completed the other aspects building work.[20] Brick laying must have taken place, however, as John Benn Walsh had spent the majority of 1808 preparing for the changes at Warfield by making bricks [Link to stuff on bricks – https://environment7.uwe.ac.uk/resources/constructionsample/Conweb/walls/bricks/print.htm]. Sustained brick working, joinery and carpentry resulted in substantial changes, such as raising a new floor on the North Front, and expanding Warfield’s layout. By the end of 1811 it was possible to dine in the dining room, although the rest of the house took at least another year to complete.[21]

What Margaret and John sought to create at Warfield remains unknown. They clearly used the house as a social space. Their son describes how it was ‘often filled by a succession of old friends & relations for weeks together. [22]  Their Benn-Walsh’s social circle was made up of relations such as the Hollands and Stracheys but also their Indian friends – the Plowdens, Metcalfes, Casamajors, Dallas’s and Cummings.[23] After they moved to Warfield they slowly expanded their social circle by including families in the local area, some of which also had Indian connections such as the Russells who moved to nearby Swallowfield Park in the 1820s.[24]At the same time, the house became a project for both Margaret and John – something to improve and work on. Unlike Margaret’s uncle, Margaret and John invested in the fabric of Warfield in order to create a house that could accommodate their family and friends. The time and money they spent on the house also suggests that they wanted it to remain in the family as their principle country seat. Warfield was no longer simply a sanctuary; it had ambitions of its own.

Nevertheless, for Margaret, like her mother and uncle before her houses were primarily important as places containing memories and connexions. Margaret sustained important relationships to other country houses and shored up her links to them through regular visiting. Country houses were not merely social spaces, but held other memories of different times and experiences. For instance in the summer of 1811, Margaret journeyed north to visit her relation Lady Clive at Oakly Park in Shropshire. She found her ‘dear Lady Clive in excellent health & spirits. Her figure much bent, but with the same sweetness of countenance & vivacity of manner.’ While she greeted Lady Clive calmly, being in Oakly Park led Margaret to feel ‘many various emotions’. She had not been to the house since the summer she had spent there prior to ‘embarking for India’. She had not returned to the house after she came back from India because Lady Clive had been living at Englefield. She was pleased to finally return and described how ‘The many, many years which have rolled over my head since I inhabited that sweet spot seemed compressed into a small space, which fancy easily leaped over & restored the long lost scene’.[25] For Margaret then, houses stored memories of previous times, which could be re-entered simply by visiting the house. Houses, particularly country houses, were important places.

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[1] According to John and Margaret’s son, Sir Henry Strachey did not inherit due to an argument that occurred between him and Walsh. See National Library of Wales, Ormathwaite Papers, Memoir of Margaret Benn Walsh, FE5/2, p. 65.

[2] http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/benn-walsh-john-1759-1825

[3] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscript, Memoir of Margaret Walsh, Photo Eur 32/1, p. 67. See also T. H. Bowyer, ‘Fowke, Joseph (1716–1800)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/63560, accessed 12 Sept 2012]

[4] http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/benn-walsh-john-1759-1825

[5] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscripts, Letter from Margaret Fowke to John Walsh, 1787, D546/22, ff. 61.

[6] Letter from Margaret Fowke to John Walsh, 2July1787,  D546/22, ff. 65.

[7] The National Archives, John Walsh Will, PROB 11/1258. The only major asset John Benn and Margaret did not inherit from John Walsh was his estate in Pontefract, Yorkshire, which he had bought in order to enable him to nominate one MP for the borough. In his will Walsh stipulated that the Pontefract estate should be sold by his executors along with his London house in Chesterfield Street in order to pay off any outstanding debts..

[8] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscript, Memoir of Margaret Walsh, Photo Eur 32/3, p. 46.

[9] Memoir of Margaret Walsh, Photo Eur 32/3, p. 47.

[10] Ibid.

[11] National Library of Wales, Ormathwaite Papers, Letters and Memorandum from 1811 to 1815 of Margaret Walsh, f. 9.

[12] Letters and Memorandum from 1811 to 1815 of Margaret Walsh, f. 9.

[13] Memoir of Margaret Elizabeth Benn-Walsh, Volume 3, p. 21.

[14] British Library, India Office Records, European Manuscripts, Memoir of Margaret Elizabeth Benn-Walsh, Photo Eur 32/3, p. 117.

[15] Memoir of Margaret Elizabeth Benn-Walsh, Photo Eur 32/3, p. 127.

[16] Ibid, p. 117.

[17] Ibid.

[18] National Library of Wales, Ormathwaite Papers, Memoir of Margaret Benn Walsh, FE5/3, p. 131.

[19] Memoir of Margaret Benn Walsh, FE5/3, p. 131.

[20] Ibid., p. 133.

[21] Ibid., p. 135.

[22] Ibid., p. 163.

[23] Ibid.

[24] National Library of Wales, Ormathwaite Papers, Memoir of Margaret Benn Walsh, FE5/2, p. 23.

[25] Letters and Memorandum from 1811 to 1815 of Margaret Walsh, f. 9.