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. 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.

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