Grove House

by James Wisdom

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 3 (1982)

When Grove House was demolished, was it shipped across the Atlantic and re-erected in America? Certainly Joe Tanner, whose father was the last cowman on that estate, thinks so. He was around at the time of the demolition and can remember that that was the common belief. He recalls also that the beautiful gates were made of bronze but painted black. A friend of his recently returned from the USA with a newly-taken slide of the house but unfortunately she died before telling anyone where in America she took the photo, and her property has now been dispersed and the slide lost.

detail from a watercolour by Agnes Pringle about 1920 (Chiswick Local Studies library)

Can Chiswick Reference Library throw any light on the matter? They have a letter (dated 1973) from a man who had acquired an oval dish with a picture of Grove House painted on it from the granddaughter of Colonel Shipway, the last owner of Grove House. He records that she confirms that the house was dismantled stone by stone, presumably for sale and re-erection.

The house was to be auctioned on 16th Oct 1928 by Hamptons, but it was in fact sold by private treaty on the 12th. There is also a letter from T Crowther & Sons of Fulham who did the demolition, saying that they found a considerable quantity of early pine panelling together with some Tudor oak panelling behind the plaster panels above the dado (though they do not say in which room).

In 1982 one of the members of the Community Education Local History Class at Chiswick School – Viv Ball – went on holiday to California. She visited the Huntington Art Gallery at San Marino. In the ‘Quinn Room’ on the second floor she found a mantlepiece from Grove House. It is the same one that is shown in Plate 43 of Warwick Draper’s Chiswick (1973 ed) photographed in 1923. The room is so named because the panelling was a gift to the Art Gallery from Florence N Quinn in 1940 – the rest of the room has panelling from Castle Hill, Devonshire, and an overmantle and overdoorway from Arlington Street, St James’s. Is the rest of the house scattered about the USA, or will it turn up in one place?

Meanwhile there is an altogether different way to approach the history of Grove House. Florence B. Pettit visited the house just before its demolition and she has kindly given permission to reproduce this extract from ‘Shrines of Psychic Power; A Spiritual Pilgrimage’ (published by Thorsans Publishers Ltd. Northamptonshire, 1974).

“…when I was staying at Grove House, Chiswick, I had a delightful clairvoyant experience. Mother and I were visiting an uncle and aunt who lived, temporarily, while managing the estate, in a flat in that stately home. Acres of surrounding land were being ‘developed’. I had not previously been inside such a gracious house. It had a Palladian style porch and a ballroom with blue silk-lined walls. The ceiling of the ballroom was embossed with white plaster cherubs and fruit, birds and flowers.

Although I did not go into every roam during our stay, I remember that the walls of the gun room were still hung with tapestries. There was a labyrinth of pantries below stairs, where servants of the past had answered the complicated bell system. The grounds were very extensive and statuary flanked the winding river Thames which ran through the gardens. My cousin and I found a centenarian tortoise in the Orangerie. The spacious lawns, the fountains, the lovely trees and shrubs, were all to be destroyed as the land was to be built over. The house was the last to be demolished. My uncle was the land agent. I sensed that he was nervous in the old house. Wherever he went after dark he carried with him a heavy policeman’s rattle. It was the year 1928.

When we arrived at the house we were shown into our bedroom by my uncle. Then mother left me to unpack our bags while she went downstairs to talk to auntie. Suddenly I realised that I was not alone in the room. From a small connecting dressing-room, several young girls in crinolines were emerging.

A maid dressed in black and wearing a white starched cap with streamers was flitting among the girls, adjusting their ringlets and sashes and attending to their many demands. The young people moved about the bedroom, between various mirrors, laughing merrily and chattering, although I do not remember that I heard their actual words. I did, however, hear dance music floating up from the downstairs ballroom which, until then, I did not know existed. The girls and the maid seemed oblivious of me so I continued unpacking while watching them. I believe that I slipped back in time and accepted the occurrence as normal.

At the romantic age of seventeen one might concluded that I had imagined the event, but I have a great respect for imagination. Later I wore my first evening gown and cloak and drove out to dine with my family. We visited Drury Lane Theatre and saw Evelyn Laye in New Moon. The romance of that lovely musical and the glittering lights of my first evening in London followed the psychic experience in my bedroom.

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