History of Broomfield House - Broomfield House Restoration

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the history of broomfield house and park


Broomfield House is a Grade II* listed building, and is the centrepiece of a public park which incorporates the remains of a formal Baroque landscape of ponds and avenues, focussed on the House, and is itself also Grade II listed. It lies adjacent to the Lakes Estate Conservation area. The House was classified as Grade II* in 1950. Included on the site are a Grade II listed stable block and covered gateway (of Tudor origin), as well as one of very few remaining Baroque water gardens in the UK. An early 18th century timber summerhouse overlooks the East Lawn. Both House and Stables are still enclosed by the original sixteenth - eighteenth century wall which has remained substantially intact (repaired in 2010). Taken together, all these components of the country estate of medium scale, once so characteristic in England and elsewhere, are to be found in Broomfield House and its Park and garden. They remain as one of the very few examples of this type of property, evolving over centuries even into the era of urbanisation (and municipalisation). Broomfield serves as an historical example in its own right of more than local significance and if brought back to functionality has the potential to serve new purposes for the 21st century.

below: the historic gardens around broomfield house circa 1865
used with permission from A History of Broomfield in the 20th Century by PAJ Brown (1999)

The core of Broomfield House dates back to 1550. It was originally owned by John Broomfield, a leather merchant. In 1556 he sold ‘Bromehowse’ and its land to Geoffrey Walkenden. He was a Master of the Skinners’ Company and involved in the fur trade with Muscovy. Sir John Spencer then owned the estate from 1599. He was a Master of the Clothworkers’ Company,  trading with the Ottoman Empire and the Levant. Lord Mayor in 1594-5, he was reputedly the richest man in England. His onetime apprentice Joseph Jackson took control on Sir John’s death in 1610 and his descendants owned Broomfield until 1816 when it passed to the Lybbe-Powys family. Each owner gradually expanded and modified the property. It was rented by William Rathbone, a Deputy of the Corporation of London (1858-1883), and Sir Ralph Littler QC until 1901 (see separate article below). In 1903, the House, Stable Yard and 54 acres of land were purchased by Southgate Urban District Council and Broomfield Park was opened to the public.


After serving temporarily as a school (1907 to 1910), the House was then used in various ways, first as a maternity centre (1917) and then as a dental clinic from 1929. The House and Museum opened in 1925, providing a popular local attraction for most of the 20th century. Broomfield House is held in great affection to this day by those who visited it during that time. Sadly the house has remained derelict since it was reduced to a burnt shell following a series of fires in the 1980s and 90s.

Historically, Broomfield House is an interesting building. According to Paul Drury, the fabric of the house tells a story of the gradual evolution of a gentry house from medieval open hall to extensive Regency country house. The 16th century core is of considerable value in historical terms. The preservation of the decorative quadrant-braced framing in the east gable of the cross-wing is of particular interest, as a relatively rare feature in houses of this date in south-eastern England (Paul Drury Partnership report, July 2009).

Until its demise the House contained many decorative items from the 16th to 20th centuries. Some of the most notable historical features of the house (currently in storage) are the central carved balustrade staircase (1726), the wood-panelled hall and the Baroque murals painted by the Flemish artist Gerard Lanscroon in 1726. Lanscroon was one of the leading mural painters of English baroque in his time: he also worked on murals at Windsor Palace, Hampton Court, Powis Castle and at Arnos Grove (1723), a short distance from Broomfield.

A report prepared in July 2009 by the Paul Drury Partnership (a Heritage Consultancy Firm) concluded: "Although badly damaged by fire and subsequent decay, elements of Broomfield House remain that are of ‘special architectural or historic interest’, and thus its inclusion in the statutory list remains justified. It is now principally of significance for the historical value of surviving fragments of 16th century fabric, its value as the setting and context for a major early 18th century interior (the stair hall), and as the focal point of a largely intact Baroque and earlier landscape... the building as a whole clearly remains listable." A study conducted by Donald W Insall and Associates in 1984 similarly concluded that the property could and should be preserved. Broomfield House also plays an important role in the formal landscape of the park – it is its raison d’etre.

The park retains most of its early 18th century framework, incorporating elements of 16th or 17th century boundary walls. Substantially complete Baroque landscapes are relatively rare, and are therefore significant. The double elm avenue, the formal ponds and the clairvoies were also positioned with reference to the house. The park is therefore missing its focal point – the two elements if restored would visibly complement each other as their original begetters intended.

The House’s heritage interest has been recognised in a number of studies in recent years. The following are the most significant:

  • an archaeological survey by Richard Lea and Andrew Westman of 1985

  • historical notes on the building prepared by Stephen Brindle of English Heritage in 1993

  • a report on the structural development of the house by Richard Lea of the English Heritage Buildings Recording Unit, February 1994

  • a survey and analysis prepared by the Parklands Consortium in 1997, which examined the park

  • The Significance of the House and Park, the Paul Drury Partnership, July 2009


It has a rich and interesting social history recorded in the Broomfield Estate papers in Enfield’s local history collection. It is a significant heritage resource which could be lost forever.

 

The Last Permanent Resident of Broomfield Park - Sir Ralph Littler
16 June 2020

The last permanent resident of Broomfield House was Sir Ralph Littler, an eminent barrister and significant figure in local government.  He rented the house from the Lybbe Powys family from 1875 to 1901. Sir Ralph had a staff of 14 to run the house and gardens.
Although he left Broomfield House in 1901, his affection for it reflected in the article (below) remained. In 1902 as Chair of the Middlesex County Council he signed the agreement to pay a quarter of the £25,000 purchase price for the park and house, the remainder coming from Southgate Urban District Council. Among the conditions of the MCC contribution were that the House should be kept in good repair and the "Oak staircase and frescoes shall be preserved".

The architect commissioned in 2019 by Enfield Council to draw up plans for the reconstruction of the exterior of the House came across this article about Sir Ralph:

THE MIDDLESEX GAZETTE: SATURDAY FEBRUARY 28 1891

"Within twenty minutes, or even less, of leaving Kings Cross Station you reach a neighbourhood where the very names are redolent of the most perfect rusticity; Colney Hatch (always printed Coney in the days of our forefathers) may have long since lost its original signification as one of the side gateways or entrances to the Royal ' Chase of Enfield; but there is a true ring of the country in such pleasant sounding designations as Bush Hill and the Cherry Tree Inn.

First comes a district given up to dingy warehouses and squalid streets; next follows a suburban zone devoted to aged fishmongers, indigent poulterers, and Masonic orphans ; and the towers of Muswell Hill are scarcely out of sight before you find yourself on the modest- platform at Palmer’s Green (another instance of rural nomenclature)and shaking hands with the eminent Queen’s Counsel who began his career by a successful battle on behalf of the Confederate Commissioners, and is at the present moment chief of the Middlesex County Council one of the most capable chairmen of Quarter Sessions in the United Kingdom, and the only lawyer whose .services have even been rewarded with the Companionship of the Bath.

Mr. Littler is by no means the first well-known person who has revelled in the forest-trees, green meadows, and verdant hedgerows of Southgate. Lord Chancellor Truro died at Bowes Manor, Lord Mayor Sir William Curtis, of the "Three R’s" celebrity, inhabited Cullands; Lord Newhaven succeeded the "Welds at Arnos Grove ; and a Duchess of Chandos once held her court at Minchenden House. The pollard oak of Minchenden, with its spread of one hundred and thirty, is still one of the boasts of the district.

As you walk briskly along the frost-hardened lanes, Mr. Littler tells you something of his own snug demesne adjoining Arno’s which, as the name Palmer’s Green might lead one to suspect, once, belonged to some religious foundation. James I. is reputed to have often hunted at "Bromefield"as the place was called when the Jacksons owned it, and their dark oak staircases and painted ceilings by Sir James Thornhill excited almost as much interest as the Minchenden giant itself.

Your host has not yet exhausted the early history of Broomfield when you arrive at a lofty entrance gate surmounted by a crest of tangled ivy. Two minutes later Mr. Littler is welcoming you with characteristic cordiality to a house where a typical -Elizabethan hall, contrasts curiously with the bareness of an early Georgian exterior tempered only by creepers and foreign looking outside shutters. The cosy wainscoted hall is the feature par excellence of Broomfield, and you cannot help feeling a tinge of disappointment that, in spite of the combined efforts of the monks and their successors, Mr. Littler cannot even plead guilty to the suspicion of a ghost.

Sitting m one of the cushioned chairs of the low roofed room, with the firelight flickering comfortably on the polished panelling, you can just catch a glimpse through the old fashioned windows of the three lakes which in all probability once provided the inmates of the monastery with fish, Opposite the door runs the broad staircase decorated by Sir James Thornhill’s somewhat florid mythological pictures, in the foreground of which he has placed, with prophetic eye, the squirrel crest of the Littlers.

A man in armour guards' the square half-landing and the upper portions of the walls of the central hall are adorned with some rare Delft and other specimens of blue faïence. On a winter’s evening there are very few more comfortable spots within easy reach of Southgate than the hearth at Broomfield, by the aide of which Mr Littler’s aged colley generally reposeson one of the bearskin couches.  

The open fireplace is lined with bright blue Dutch tiles,stag’s antlers and blue china plaques crown the marble chimneypiece, and thick Turkish rugs are spread over the oak floor; There is certainly a strong temptation to indulge in the dolce far niente for which the hall affords so favourable an opportunity ; but Mr. Littler has treasures to show you both indoors and out.

In such a dining-room as Addison, Swift, or Pope may have feasted he keeps a row of rare inlaid Dutch cabinets which have not yet lost the peculiar gloss of the tortoise-shell, here is nothing of Tottenham Court road in the stamped, leather of his genuine chairs of the period, and if his artistes are not Gainsborough’s or Constables, very few will be inclined to quarrel with the view of Millers  Dale in Derbyshire which harmonises so admirably with the mellowed surroundings, and William Linton’s landscapes in Epping Forest, which have found so appropriate a home in still rural Southgate.

Mr. Littler is almost as fond of billiards as he is of books, and it is not surprising that his own particular sanctum should be shared between them. The figures at either end of his long carved desk are presumably typical of innocence, but the Chairman of the M.C.C.(not the great cricketing association, but the Middlesex County Council) is quite as much athome in the saddle as he is with the piles of statistics which cover the chairs and so it comes to pass that the inkstands which deal so efficiently with  "rates"," assessments," and "subcommittees"are formed out of the hoofs of departed favourites, who thus serve the most indulgent of masters even in death.

The walls are wainscoted to the ceilings, and the trophies, of barbaric weapons and ivory tusks which stud them savour rather of the den of a mighty hunter than the study of a hard-headed man of the law. It is here that Mr. Littler keeps his grandmother’s portrait; between a pair of bronze grouse and a group of Moorish lutes and in the monumental bookcase at the end of the room, you find in becomingly severe bindings that admixture of historical and judicial literature typified by Campbell’s Lives, Foss's Judges of England, Erskine's Speeches, Nelson’s Dispatches, Clarendon’s History o f the Rebellion, and Hazlett’s Eloquence of the British Senate.

Itis in the long, drawing room that Mr. Littler’s adopted daughter (whose beautiful mare,Dainty,you admire presently) expends so much care over a collection of china which her Grace of Chandos at Minchenden might well have envied.

Your host is growing impatient for a"trot round" the property, or you would spend an entire day in examining the Viennese plaques,the black overmantel entirely devoted to Dresden or the Chippendale cabinets given up to blue Sevres, arranged and classified systematically according to its particular shade,

Mr. Littler has resolved on a brisk walk before afternoon tea and within a few minutes of turning your back regretfully on these matchless teacups their owner is showing you the monks’"stews"or fishponds, divided by broad gravel paths, the finest yews and firs in the whole district, and terrace, just a furlong in length, from which you obtain a charming view of the park with its double avenue of elms. Trudging up and down beneath the high garden wall, which bears so heavy a burden of fruit each succeeding September,


Mr. Littler talks to you of the days he spent at the London University with, such contemporaries as Lord Herschell, Sir Arthur Charles, the late Walter Coulson, and Tom Hood. After taking his ‘Bachelor’s degree, and reading diligently, like so many other of the old Northern Circuit men, with Mr. John Welch, he was duly called to the Bar at the Middle Temple. Ralph Littler soon fell into one of the most varied practices at the Bar, ranging from, ordinary cases at Nisi Prius and sensational criminal cases at Liverpool to Parliamentary petition, and from heavy compensation arbitrations to intricate criminal prosecutions.

Possibly his successful advocacy in defence of the captive Confederate Commissions (which won him the thanks of Mr. Jefferson Davis and his colleagues) was to some extent the means of first making his powers of argument, knowledge of law and tenacity of purpose known, but he has managed to do something more than maintain his pristine reputation. Before Parliamentary Committees he has scored almost as many notable "railway" victories as his friend and opponent, Mr"Sam" Pope, with whom he often fraternises during the adjournments at the Whitehall Club. It was only the other day that the standing counsel for half the great English railway companies was to he heard in his very best form at Carlisle where he marshalled his intricate facts, and examined his eighty witnesses in the Netherby murder trial with consummate skill.

Mr. Littler does everything which he undertakes with his whole heart, and is essentially an all round man. He has not only mastered every .detail connected- with Local Government and Quarter Sessions (where, by the way he is righteous terror of evildoers), but devotes a share of his constitutional energy to Freemasonry. He has not only arrived at the mastership of the Bank of England Lodge, but
has twice reigned over the " Northem Bar, of which he is one of the five founders,

If there is one incident in his career the recalling of which gives him particular pleasure, it is the rescue of the "British Beni Zoug Zougs "whom he happened to see at Constantinople, and whose case excited so much attention just ten years ago.

Mr. Littler is a great smoker, never retires to rest until he has finished his day’s work, and always sits down to breakfast at 8.30 a.m. These last-named rules of life may not have been altogether useless in achieving more than the majority of his competitors. At the present moment, however he is evidently disposed to sink the lawyer in the agriculturalist and demonstrate the essential difference between the Squire at Palmers Green and the Queen’s Counsel arguing a curious point, or examining a contumacious witness before an audience in a House of Commons committee room. Briefs and legal conundrums are very good things, in their way, but so are model cottages, farm buildings on improved principles, shorthorns and thoroughbreds little less tame than Dainty or Lucifer; While at Southgate Mr. Littler is a forensic Cincinnatus, and you must seek him elsewhere to fully realise his powers as a County Council chairman or his ability as a lawyer. By the time you have done paying your respects to Lucifer, Dainty, the shorthorns, and the thoroughbreds, the darkness is gathering rapidly round the oId house, and the firelight gleams brightly from its hospitable windows. If you are exceptionally fortunate, some hours later you may look forward to hearing some of Mr Littler’s best anecdotes and Bar stories: while you sit before the fire in that ancient hall where, for aught
you know, admiring courtiers may have once listened to the wit and wisdom of King James.

Be that as it may, it is probable that the royal jokes where not a quarter as amusing, and that the gentlemen of the suite had nothing so comfortable to sit on as the bearskin divans, the possession of which is so keenly contested by the faithful colley and Mr Littler’s superb dachshund Waldemar."


We also have photographs of part of the interior of BH in 1881 which show some features mentioned in the article. These photos, which are shown to the side, are held in the Enfield Local Studies centre, and were located for this article by Gary Boudier. The contents of the house, some of which are shown, but not needed in his new home in Kensington were auctioned off on site in 1901 (I wonder what happened to the suit of armour!).
NB the attribution of the frescoes to Sir James Thornhill was an historic mistake, not corrected until shortly before the 1984 fire. Any questions about other references in the article might be answered by Google searches, though other search engines are of course available….


 
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