The golden gates

BANK HALL IN Warrington (Cheshire) was designed for the local industrialist Thomas Patten (1690-1772), who had successful copper processing works, and built in 1750. It was designed by James Gibbs (1682-1754), whose other creations include St Martin-in-the-Fields (London), Radcliffe Camera (Oxford), and the Senate House (Cambridge), to mention only a few. This elegant building with neo-classical features has served as Warrington’s Town Hall since about 1870. Impressive as the building is, its magnificence pales when it is compared to the grand gates at the entrance to its grounds.

Frederick Monks, a local ironmonger and town councillor, heard about a pair of wonderful cast-iron gates which had been made at the Coalbrookdale works at Ironbridge in Shropshire. The gates had been made to be exhibited at the International Exhibition held in South Kensington in 1862.  The gates were intended for Queen Victoria’s residence at Sandringham (Norfolk). However, when she saw them at the exhibition, she noticed a statue of the regicide Oliver Cromwell behind them. This put her off the idea of installing them at Sandringham.

The gates, having been rejected by Victoria, were offered for sale by the company that had made them. Eventually, Frederick Monks purchased both the gates and the statue of Cromwell for his town, Warrington. The gates were installed in front of the Town Hall in the late 1890s. An informative website (www.warrington.gov.uk/history-golden-gates) describes features of the gates, which were recently restored beautifully:

“Because the owner was supposed to be Queen Victoria, the gates have four winged figures of Nike, the goddess of victory. They also had a Prince of Wales motif above the arch in the middle, but this was changed to Warrington’s Coat of Arms.” We had no idea that these gates with gold gilding existed. So, when we came across them during a post-prandial stroll, we were both surprised and delighted. When you see these beautiful gates, you can understand why Warrington is so lucky to have them. Incidentally, the bronze statue of Cromwell is also in the town: on Bridge Street. Before it was erected there in 1899, there was much discussion in the town council about the suitability of celebrating the regicide with the statue.

A grand old house in north London

THE OLD WELLS AND CAMPDEN Wash Houses stand on an elevated section of Hampstead’s Flask Walk and overlook a distinguished-looking detached house standing in its grounds surrounded by walls at the eastern end of Flask Walk. Entered through an unusual double set of wrought iron gates, this is Gardnor House, which was built in 1736. The doubling of the gates has happened since the 1960s, during which time it was a single gate (see image at: https://images.historicenglandservices.org.uk/historic-images/1960-present-day/gardnor-house-hampstead-aa071908-1339539.html)

The house was built for the successful upholsterer Thomas Gardnor (c1685-1775) opposite the stocks that were used for punishment until 1831 (Barratt, T: “The Annals of Hampstead). He and his family were responsible for the development of several streets and buildings in Hampstead (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp15-33). Thomas was responsible for building terraces of houses in Flask Walk and homes in what is now Gardnor’s Place. His family also:

“…enlarged their property holdings in the area to include Flask Walk, Streatley Place and parts of Heath Street, High Street and New End. The family also owned houses in Church Row on the site of Gardnor Mansions.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gardnor).

In addition to his property interests, Thomas was made a trustee of the Hampstead Wells Charity, which aided the local poor, in 1761 (Barratt, T). Gardnor is believed to have died of smallpox (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1067366) and was buried in the graveyard of Hampstead Parish Church, where his tomb may still be seen.

During the mid-19th century, Gardnor House was owned by a dealer in chinaware. Later that century, by which time most of the area around Flask Walk was inhabited by poor people, the grand Gardnor House was the home of an architect. Moving forward 100 years, we find that Gardnor House was the home of the authors Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) and Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014). By the time they moved in, their marriage was crumbling as Joseph Conolly, owner of the former Flask Bookshop in Flask Walk, recalled (https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/november-2020/very-amis-very-hampstead/):

“…by the time they were settled in Gardnor House in Flask Walk — also Georgian, though rather smaller and with a modest garden — the gilt was beginning to chip away from the golden couple, and that deterioration was about to accelerate rather rapidly.”

 When they separated, the house was sold in 1981. On the 14th of October 2020, the house, which contains five bedrooms, five reception rooms, and four bathrooms, was sold for £11,000,000 (www.rightmove.co.uk/house-prices/detailMatching.html?prop=66871156&sale=11118685&country=england). GW Potter, a local historian,  also once lived in Gardnor House, but I do not know when that was.

The house that Thomas Gardnor built for himself is one of the larger residences within the bounds of old Hampstead. It is either evidence of his success as an upholsterer and/or as a property developer. Luckily, the house seems to be well-maintained. Many of us, who spent our childhood in or near Hampstead, bemoan it having become a more upmarket area than it used to be, but with its property values rising, the condition of many historic buildings is being well-maintained.