OAST HOUSE, Croydon Road
Built 1873 -4, Grade II Listed Building
‘Built in the middle of Hayes Common in 1873-4 by Philip Webb for the eccentric Lord Sackville Cecil. A large house but as independent minded as any by Webb and composed with a good deal more finesse than the Red House as one would expect fourteen years after that pioneering effort. Long, low with a deep barn-like roof and the chimney stacks in four massive slabs. The materials squared ragstone blocks and red brick dressings, not always where expected. White window frames and a little white weather boarding in the gables. The entrance (w) front rather like an enlarged school——ending in gabled wings of equal width but unequal projection. The windows are wide and have his favourite segmental heads (one or two window sills lowered in recent years). In the centre three evenly spaced dormers of Queen Anne proportions. Low square porch running at the full depth of the right wing. The east side has a memorable feature of four wide gable dormers in a row starting up from the foot of the roof. They impose a rhythm on a façade otherwise quite without symmetry (The bow window at the r end not original) The interior has been altered out of recognition.’
This description from The Buildings of England ed Nikolaus Pesvner is reproduced with the permission of the Building Books Trust and Yale University Press.
It provides a good summary of the building which was originally designed by Philip Webb. The supervision of its construction was taken over by Charles Vinall when Philip Webb withdrew his services, possibly because Lord Sackville Cecil with his very firm ideas may have attempted to supervise some of the building work himself .
Original Cottage before the Oast House
Lord Sackville Cecil, the younger son of James Cecil, the second Marquess of Salisbury, bought the land and two small cottages on 30 April 1873 from Mrs Ann Fry of Baston Manor after the death of her husband James in November 1872.
By 1875 Sackville Cecil was in residence and in the October an acorn was planted by Thomas Carlyle in the grounds for Sackville’s mother Mary, Countess of Derby. It successfully grew into a large oak tree
Lord Sackville Cecil had very stout pillars built in the brick vaulted cellar to support the delicate equipment he used in his ground floor study. The basement where he conducted his electrical and mechanical experiments was reached by a spiral staircase.
He remained at the Oast House until his death in 1898. The property was then let briefly to a solicitor Frederick Hoare who moved in with his wife Amy, and in 1901 their household consisted of 3 children, a governess, nurse and three resident servants.
The following year Henry Wellcome, founder of Burroughs & Wellcome, moved to the house with his new wife Syrie (née Barnardo). A son Henry Mounteney was born in 1903. They left the Oast House in 1904 and moved to another property in Hayes, the Nest.
In March 1907 a seven year lease on the property was taken out by Alexander Boord with the Hon. Margaret Ceil and Arthur James Balfour. They subsequently sold the property to Arthur William Cecil.
In 1914 the house was described as in a lovely position surrounded by common. It had a small garden for the size of the house which was reported to be in fair decorative and good structural repair. The house included 3 large and five small bedrooms, a night nursery and dressing room over two floors, 2 large reception rooms, a dining room, kitchen and hall on the ground floor and cellars. The notes on the diagram at the time refer to the parquet flooring and oak panelling in the dining room and the carved oak overmantel in the drawing room. Some of the oak carving was said to have formed part of the Duke of Wellington’s bed. Outside was a lodge with four rooms, a coach-house, stabling with three stalls. It was rated as a very saleable property with a market value of £3600 and the current rent was £220 a year.
1916 – 1934
By 1916 Alexander Boord had moved into Coney Hill, the former home of his wife Coralie Hoskier and the Oast House became empty. The property was put up for sale after the First World War on 27 August 1919 and was bought by Guilford Edward Lewis, a solicitor.
One of his first actions was to convert the Coach House and stables into a house, Turtons, and divide it from his garden making an entrance on to the highway. It was put on the market at an asking price of £2700. The following year it was stated that it might rent for £100 per annum A balcony was added to the Oast House in the 1920s so that his daughter who was suffering from TB could sleep in the fresh air. He was in considerable disagreement with the Conservators of Hayes Common in 1926 when he proposed to build a small cottage for his gardener at the north east corner of his garden and make a pedestrian access from it which involved going on to the Common. By 1928 the cottage was built and finally agreement was given for this gate on payment of one shilling [5p] a year.
His daughter married in 1932 and he put the Oast House up for sale in 1934. One of the main selling points was that because of the covenants on the property ‘it was secured from building development for all time and was surrounded by acres of beautiful Common lands’. It comprised a spacious entrance hall, 3 reception and 7 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a garage for two cars, a brick-built bungalow for a gardener, a summer house with a thatched roof and two poultry houses. The beautiful garden of about 1½ acres was very secluded and included a tennis court, small orchard and prolific kitchen garden.
1934 – 1950
The new owners were Ernst and Cecile Hessenberg. Ernst had arrived from Frankfurt in 1902 and in 1908 married Cecile Fortlage who was born in Dulwich to German parents. They lived in Bromley for 26 years where their three children Wilfred Eric and Karin were born. In 1934 Ernst purchased the whole of the Oast House estate, including Turtons, from Guilford Lewis. Cecile’s sister Marie-Therese moved into Turtons with her family and the Hessenbergs occupied Oast House.
They remained there during World War II and experienced the effects both of the blitz when a 50 kg bomb fell in the grounds and another landed near the Oast House bungalow. Many incendiaries fell in the garden and one hit the Oast House roof but fortunately burnt itself out. Blast damage was done by a V1 which fell on 3 July 1944 destroying the nearby Baston Manor Lodge. Surrounded by trees Oast House became a mystery house for the local children and was the setting for a novel ‘The House on the Common’ set in the Second World War, written by Alison Prince.
After Ernst died in 1949 the family prepared to vacate Oast House. Wilfred moved to 70 Hayes Lane with his family, Karin moved to Ashford with hers, widowed sisters Marie-Therese and Cecile bought a house to share at 38 Hayes Lane while Eric moved into Turtons with his wife Sylvia and their three children. They lived there until the 1960s.
In 1950 Tom Webb and his brother-in-law Bill Dumbrill purchased Oast House and the tenanted cottage. Tom and Bill divided the main house into two with a stepped boundary. Tom and Joyce Webb and their two children William and Sarah occupied the south wing which kept the name Oast House and a kitchen was created as an addition beyond the studio room. The northern part of the house, nearer the Croydon Road which became known as the Pantiles because of the tiles on the outbuildings, was home to Joyce’s sister Barbara and her husband Bill, and their children were born there. Modifications had to be made to that part of the property so the kitchen and store became the new living room with an added bay window and the kitchen was set up in the former butler’s pantry.
When the Dumbrills left Pantiles in 1968 it was bought by Tom Webb who converted the outbuildings of the Pantiles into Webb’s Cottage, a self contained lodging for his widowed mother. The tenanted cottage originally intended for his parents had been sold off in 1954 and is called Oast House Cottage. Tom Webb died in 1993 and left Oast House to Joyce who sold it to John Gunn and Pamela Taylor in 1996. Tom’s daughter Sarah inherited Pantiles and sold it in 1998 since when it has changed hands several times while the Gunns have remained owners of Oast House.
The Oast House still retains many of the distinctive features that reflect the Arts and Craft Movement and the taste of its original owner Lord Sackville Cecil.
With thanks to Sarah Webb for the information on the Oast House after 1950.
Useful information: Kirk, Sheila, Philip Webb: Pioneer of Arts & Craft Architecture, Wiley-Academy 2005