Boston, but not in Massachusetts

THE NAME BOSTON is often associated with a revolutionary tea party in a former British possession. Some might also associate it with a town in Lincolnshire. And Londoners might connect it with a tube station on the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground. The station, which is a stop on the line to Heathrow Airport is Boston Manor, a place which I first visited in April of this year (2021).

In the case of Boston Manor, the name Boston is derived from an older name ‘Bordeston’, which comes from the word ‘borde’, meaning ‘boundary’. Another etymology of the name, which is unrelated to that of the Boston in Lincolnshire, is that it derives from the name of a Saxon farmer named ‘Bord’. Whatever the origin of the name, Boston Manor, the house and its lovely gardens, stand on the border between Hanwell and Brentford.

Until the Priory of St Helens in Bishopsgate was suppressed in 1538 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Helen%27s_Church,_Bishopsgate), the Manor of Bordeston was owned by it. King Edward VI granted it to Edward, Duke of Somerset (1500-1552), Lord Protector of England during the earlier part of Edward VI’s reign, and later it reverted to the Crown. In 1552, Queen Elizabeth I gave the manor to the Earl of Leicester, who immediately sold it to the merchant and financier Sir Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579). After several changes of ownership, the property was sold in 1670 to the City merchant James Clitherow (1618-1681; www.bhsproject.co.uk/families_clitherow.shtml). James demolished the existing manor house. He modified and enlarged Boston House, originally built by Lady Reade in 1622 in the Jacobean style. This house with three gables still stands but is closed as it is undergoing extensive repairs. It looks out onto grounds planted with fine trees, many of them cedars of Lebanon. The grounds that include a small lake slope down towards the River Brent.  The house and grounds, Boston Manor Park, remained in the possession on of the Clitherow family until 1923, when Colonel John Bourchier Stracey-Clitherow (1853-1931) sold the house and what was left of the estate (after some of it had been sold to property developers) to the then local authority, Brentford Urban District Council. During his military career, this gentleman was taken prisoner during the ill-fated Jameson Raid in South Africa, a prelude to the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Before the Clitherows began selling off their land at Boston manor, there was a house in the grounds called ‘Little Boston’. It stood until the early 1920s when it was sold to a developer named Jackman, who demolished it to build houses now standing on Windmill Road (https://littleealinghistory.org.uk/node/6). John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), who became the sixth president of the USA in 1825, resided in Little Boston house between 1815 and 1817 whilst he was American minister to Britain during that period. Adams was born in Massachusetts. So, it seems fitting that he lived in a house and an estate both bearing the name of an important city in that American state.

On our way to see our friend who took us to see Boston Manor House and Park, we drove along a road named in memory of the Clitherow family. Sadly, what with the building works and covid19 restrictions, we were unable to view the fine interior of Boston Manor House. However, the garden and its lake, where we spotted its resident tortoise sunning itself on a log, proved to be a lovely surprise, well worth visiting … and you need not cross the Atlantic to get there from London.

Ham and Highgate

LAUDERDALE IS A NAME, which until a few days ago I used to associate solely with Highgate in north London. Lauderdale House sits on Highgate Hill close to Waterlow Park. What you see of it today is a highly restored 18th century building that dates to 1760. Prior to that date, a finer looking timber framed house built in 1582 stood on the site. Built for the goldsmith Richard Martin (died 1617), who was Mayor of London in 1589, it was one of the finest country houses in Highgate. The present version, although acceptable aesthetically, is unremarkable. In 1645, the house became the property of John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale (1616-1682), a Scot.

Originally a supporter of Oliver Cromwell’s regime, he later became a supporter of King Charles II in 1660 soon before his restoration to the throne. During the reign of Charles II, Lauderdale held several of the highest offices in the land including Secretary of State and Lord High Commissioner. He was also involved in the Company of Royal Adventurers of England trading with Africa (founded 1663), which dealt much in slaves and gold.  

Lauderdale was first married to Lady Anne Home (1612-1671), a Scottish aristocrat. A year after Anne died, Lauderdale married Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart (1626-1698), who had been an active and important supporter of Charles II during and after his exile. Evelyn Pritchard in her book “Ham House and its owners through five centuries 1610-2006” reports that it was rumoured that she had been having an affair with Lauderdale while she was still married to her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache (1624-1669). Lauderdale’s second marriage brings us across London from Highgate to the River Thames at Ham near Richmond.

Elizabeth Murray was the first born of the four daughters of William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart (c 1600-1655) and his wife Catharine (née Bruce). Being the eldest, Elizabeth inherited her father’s title and the home he owned at Ham, Ham House.  Her father, William, acquired Ham House in 1626. During the Civil War, Elizabeth Dysart maintained good relations with both Oliver Cromwell and the exiled King Charles II and thus preserved her ownership of Ham House, where she and Tollemache produced eleven children.

The house that William took over had been built between 1608 and 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavasour (1560-1620), a naval captain who had fought the Spanish at sea in the late 16th century. He had been awarded his knighthood at sea in 1597. The basic structure of Ham House, an ‘H plan’ typical of the Jacobean style, has survived although over the years newer parts have been added to it particularly at the rear. Seen from the front, Ham House has retained its original attractive Jacobean appearance. The rear of the house (the south facing garden side) has lost two of the original arms of the ‘H’ because the space between them was filled with an extension created by the Lauderdales in the 1670s. Thus, the north (front) façade is Jacobean, the southern one is in the later baroque style with sash windows, which make it look much newer than it is actually.

Because of the restrictions caused by the covid19 pandemic we were only allowed to view the ground floor rooms. However, this was sufficient to see what a splendidly decorated and furnished place the Lauderdales created. Every room we saw from the grand Great Hall and the fine carved wooden staircase to the smallest closets is a wonder to behold. A couple of rooms had beautiful ceilings with paintings, one by the German Franz Cleyn (c1582-1658) born in Rostock (Germany) and died in London, and another by the Italian Antonio Verrio (c1636-1707), born in Lecce (Italy) and died at Hampton Court.

Ham House has wonderful gardens, which we explored briefly before walking back to Richmond via the water meadows that flank the Thames. For me, the highlight of the grounds of Ham House was the geometrically perfect, formal garden to the east of the house. This was originally ‘the Cherry Garden’ where cherries are known to have been grown in 1653, when it was leased to one Samuel Purnell. The National Trust website (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden/features/the-garden-at-ham-house) informs us that:

“… the garden re-creates what historically ‘might have been’, following work in the 1970s to reinstate 17th century character previously lost.”

A statue of Bacchus, the only original piece of garden sculpture to have survived at Ham, stands in the heart of this perfectly manicured example of man’s influence on nature.

The National Trust received Ham House from Sir Lyonel Tollemache (born 1931) and his son Cecil Lyonel Newcomen Tollemache in 1948. The 9th Earl of Dysart (1859-1935), a descendant of William Murray, inherited Ham House in 1884 but died childless in 1935. The Dysart title passed on to his niece Wynefrede (1889-1973) whilst Ham House was passed on to his second cousin Sir Lyonel.

We left Ham House, thoroughly intrigued, and satisfied by what we had seen and hope to return a few more times. From now on, when the name ‘Lauderdale, springs to mind, I will not automatically think of my old ‘stomping ground’, Highgate, but also Ham will spring to mind. There is a local north London newspaper “The Ham and High” that covers what happens in Hampstead and neighbouring Highgate. Now. that paper’s name has assumed a new meaning for me having learned of Lauderdale’s connection with both Ham and HIGHgate.