Brentford’s Jewel: Boston Manor House

by Janet McNamara

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 6 (1997)

Boston Manor House, image based on a pen and ink sketch from Chiswick Library Local Studies Collection

Boston Manor House has undergone a two-year refurbishment programme and re-opened to the public in April 1997. In addition to the drawing room and staircase which have been open on summer weekends for many years, visitors will now be able to see the dining room and library, which have never been opened before. The newly-opened rooms will have reproduction furniture which fits the character of the house, and many pictures of the local area, owned by the London Borough of Hounslow, will be on show adding further interest to one of the treasures of Brentford. This seems a good time to give a brief account of the house’s history.

The manor of Boston
At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086, the manor of Boston was part of the parish of Hanwell. The manor was bounded by the River Brent to the west; Half Acre/Boston Manor Road to the east; the line of what is now the Piccadilly underground track to the north and the Thames in the south. The name ‘Boston’ (recorded as Bordestun in 1377) is thought to mean ‘Bord’s farm’. In 1280 the manor was held by the Benedictine Priory of St Helen’s Bishopsgate who were granted a charter for a market and a fair in 1306.

In 1538, at the Dissolution of the monasteries, the manor reverted to the Crown and was given by Edward VI to the Duke of Somerset. After his execution Elizabeth I gave it to the Earl of Leicester. He sold it to Sir Thomas Gresham who added Boston to his estate at Osterley. Sir Thomas’s wife inherited his properties and left Boston Manor to a son by a previous marriage. This was William Reade, who was knighted by James I in 1610. In 1621 the estate passed to his wife who was 30 years his junior.

The Jacobean house
Lady Mary Reade then began building the present house. It is shown at the bottom of Moses Glover’s 1635 map of the area which hangs in Syon House – a square red brick house with three storeys and two gables, the property of Sir Edward Spencer who had married Lady Mary shortly after the house was completed. The older manor house is shown as a large rambling building alongside. In spite of more than 350 years of additions and alterations, this square Jacobean house still stands and its rarity led it to be listed as an Ancient Monument in 1996.

Many of the original Jacobean features remain; the most spectacular being the elaborate plaster ceiling in the Drawing Room, restored in the 1960s. This ceiling, described as ‘the high watermark of Jacobean elaboration’ is thought to have been executed by the same craftsmen as a ceiling in Blickling Hall, Norfolk. This style of ceiling was fashionable at the time, with owners choosing patterns and symbols from published books of designs.

Lady Mary selected emblems depicting the Elements, the Five Senses, War and Peace (twice), Tune, and Faith, Hope and Charity, with some labelled in Latin, some in English. She also elected to have her initials and the date 1623 included. The design of the plaster overmantel is from a 1584 engraving by Abraham de Bruyn with a central medallion showing Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, but being prevented from doing so by an angel. The inscription ‘in the Mount of the Lord it shall be seene’ has been ingeniously shortened to fit the panel below.

Lady Mary and her husband both died during the 1650s and it seems that the house was damaged by fire about the same time and the manorial records destroyed.

The home of the Clitherow family
In 1670 Lady Mary’s trustees sold the estate to James Clitherow, a City merchant and banker whose father had been an MP and Lord Mayor of London. With his City connections one wonders how he came to move to New Brentford. Possibly he was related to the Hawley family who held the lease for Brentford Market – he is reported to have been churchwarden at St Lawrence’s ‘with his cousin Hawley’ in 1673/4. Another possibility is that his third wife was Elizabeth Barker of the family that lived at Grove House, Chiswick during the 17th century. Clitherow paid £5,136.17s.4d (£5,136.87) for his new property and spent another £1,439.12s.9d (£1,439.63) on repairs and on building an extra gable to the house. It is likely that the pediment window surrounds and architraves were added at this time. The older manor house that stood on the lawn was also demolished.

The Clitherow family were to remain in the possession of the house until 1924. Over the years many alterations were made, the house extended northwards and a stable block built about 1700. Early in the 19th century, the fourth James Clitherow added a porch to the front, built a screen across the hall and added lions to the newel posts. A hundred years’ later, when the Clitherow family’s main residence was in East Yorkshire, the house was condemned as unfit for human habitation.

Repairs were carried out and the house was put up for sale just after World War I. A buyer could not be found so the house contents – including paintings by old masters and family portraits – were sold off. The house and 20 acres of land were bought by the Brentford Urban District Council which opened the grounds as a public park.

From about 1941 to 1961 the ground floor of the house was used as a primary school. It was restored and in 1963 leased to the National Institute of Houseworkers Ltd. A housing association took over the lease in 1972; it now has flats on the top floor of the main house, in the north wing and in the recently-converted stables.

The house is open from the first weekend in April until October, from 2.30pm to 5pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. There will be special events on June 14 and 15 1997.

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