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The Tudor Wall and Witham Place

Witham Place was a very large mansion that lay behind the Tudor wall that runs from Spring Lodge up towards Spa Road. The house dated in part from about 1550, and the wall is thought to have been built about 1590 but the story starts a lot earlier.

 

Around 1275 when, according to the 'History of Essex', a messuage (dwelling with outbuildings and land attached) was given by a member of the Bacon family to the Abbot and Convent of St. John the Baptist, Colchester. At the time of the suppression of the monasteries in 1539, Abbot's, as it was then known, was granted by Henry VIII to a George Tresham.    

 

The house, Witham Place, must have been built soon afterward as there is a reference in 1556 to a large mansion 'lately erected'. After some changing of hands, Abbot's and a building called 'Petworths' was sold to Judge John Southcote around 1575. The Southcotes owned it for more than two hundred years but did not live there continuously. They were Catholics and Royalists and the house was sacked by parliamentarian forces in 1648. In 1755 The property was let on a long building lease to Lord Stourton, who made additions to the house and grounds.

 

In the early 17th. century the tenant was probably Dame Katherine Barnardiston, who was influential in the parishioners' conflict with their Vicar around 1630. Her second husband was Sir Thomas Barnardiston of the Suffolk Puritan family, and her third was William Towse, M.P., and Town Clerk for Colchester. Her will refers to a 'long gallery'. a 'painted chamber' and a 'matted gallery', helping to indicate the size of the house.

Up to the 17th century gardens were formal and geometrical. The new style in garden, park and landscape design was first introduced in 1719 when William Kent returned from a grand tour with vivid memories of Italian landscapes, Alpine crags and cascades, and ancient temples. These, with trees left to grow to their natural shape, soon became part of English garden landscape known as the 'Natural' school.


Philip Southcote, the fourth son of Sir Edward of Witham Place, married a dowager duchess with property in Chertsey in Surrey. He landscaped the 150 acre grounds which soon became known as "the first of the great landscape gardens created by the proprietors of taste". Philip Southcote's main contribution to landscape design was the inclusion of a belt of trees around the perimeter of the estate, he also gave emphasis to flowers, not only in the more formal gardens but also further out into the estate.


Capability Brown turned to design in 1746 when he was 30 years old. He adopted Kent's clumps of trees and Southcote's tree belt. With his good, though strict range, of ideas his flair for design and his bluff and hearty manner, he persuaded landowners throughout the land to commission him.


Philip Southcote was not a professional landscaper, his ferme ornee at Chertsey, soon became overgrown as did Dr. Sayer's parsonage at Witham. Horace Walpole's much quoted letter of 20/07/1749 - "Dr. Sayer's parsonage at Witham, which, with Soutcote's help. whose old Roman Catholic father lives just by him, he has made one of the most charming villas in England. There are sweet meadows falling down a hill, rising out on t' other side and the prettiest little winding stream you ever saw".

The mansion was now very extensive, at the turn of the 20th century William Bindon Blood (the local lawyer) said he could turn a 'coach and four' in what was the drawing room of the house, the foundations of which were still exposed at that time. The house also contained a Catholic Chapel. Lord Stourton died in 1781. His son sold the Witham Place Estate to John Bullock of Faulkboume Hall in 1800. He, in turn, sold Witham Place with the homefields, four acres, and Dick's Mead to Robert Bretnall, Miller. John Bullock added the rest of the estate, including Spa Field, to his Faulkboume estate. Dick's Mead was a field at the back of what is now Spring Lodge.

 

At this time a new Catholic chapel was built at the corner of the road to Powershall End and Highfields Road.     Witham Place was then let to various people by the Bretnalls. For some years it was a boy's boarding school. It became run down and by 1848 the Essex Directory described it as a very extensive mansion but had been reduced to one third it's former magnitude though still a large residence but by then unoccupied. Fallen into disuse it was demolished about two years later. The trees were felled and the timber sold by auction "including two magnificent plane trees ... foreign oaks, cedars, tulip tree, acacias, and other valuable trees".

The land now holds a number of large houses behind the wall and council housing developed in the 1960/70s.


Sources: Dorothy Dove; Janet Gyford; Tom Henderson; Witham & Countryside Society.

Text and Photographs: John Palombi and Cyril Taylor unless otherwise accredited. Illustrations: John Finch and Julie & John Denney. Translations: Google.com. Original Concept: Joy Vaughan, Witham Town Centre Strategy Group. Narration: John Rhodes
 

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