Thursday, 20 March 2014

(116) Alston of Elmdon Hall

Alston of Elmdon Hall
James Alston (d. 1828) came to Birmingham from North Berwick, and took over the chemical manufacturing business of Samuel Garbett when the latter became bankrupt in 1783. He also had interests in buckle-making (for which he took out a patent) and in the helmet and hat industry. His son, another James Alston, and grandson, William Charles Alston (1796-1872) inherited the chemical works in Steelhouse Lane and the latter left a large fortune of £180,000 at his death. In the 1840s he married and bought Elmdon Hall, a few miles outside the city, where he could live the life of a country gentleman while still being close enough to the city to visit the business regularly.

Elmdon passed to his elder son, another William Charles Alston (1842-1917), who lived at the house with his brother, James Fetherston Alston (1844-97). Both men remained unmarried, and when William Charles Alston died in 1917 the estate passed to his eldest sister, Elizabeth Louisa Roberts-West (1846-1929), wife of James Roberts-West (d. 1918) of Alscot Park (Warks). In recognition of her inheritance, Louisa added her maiden name to her married name, and her descendants have been Alston-Roberts-Wests ever since. By 1920, however, Elmdon was beginning to be encroached on by the growing suburbs of Birmingham, and she sold most of the estate, keeping only the Hall and part of the park, which were sold in 1930 by her executors.


Elmdon Hall, Warwickshire








Elmdon Hall, showing the side elevation.
A seven bay square, two-and-a-half storey house built c.1785-95 as the replacement for an earlier manor house of 1547.  It is said to have been begun for Abraham Spooner (d. 1788) and completed for his son Isaac, although the relatively severe neo-classicism and Abraham's great age at the time of his death makes me wonder whether Isaac was not the moving spirit throughout. The architect is not recorded, and although I speculated in an article in 1988 that it could be a late work by the Gloucestershire architect, Anthony Keck, I now think this is improbable, on both stylistic and geographical grounds.  The Spooners came from Birmingham (where Abraham Spooner built Rookery House, Erdington, in 1727) and they are much more likely to have chosen a local designer than Keck, whose practice was largely confined to Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and south Wales.


Elmdon Hall: entrance front. Image: Matthew Beckett
The entrance front had a large plain pediment, supported by four plain giant pilasters with rather small Ionic capitals resting on the double plat-band above the ground floor, which is thus treated as a formal basement.  As a result the facade succeeds in expressing a temple front with the greatest economy, and while the economy would be typical of Keck, the subtlety of this design is not. The front door has a simple stone canopy supported by a pair of Tuscan columns. The south front has a central curved bow, which gives this aspect of the house a strong resemblance to Keck's Middle Hill at Broadway (Worcs).

As a square of seven bays, Elmdon Hall was a surprisingly large house and included a drawing room, three reception rooms, fifteen bedrooms, four dressing rooms and wardrobe rooms, and a splendid library which looked out over the parkland towards the lake. 
The few illustrations which survive of the interior suggest the strict neo-classicism of the exterior continued inside.  

The convenience of the house to Birmingham was what recommended it to the Spooners in the 18th century, but as the city gradually expanded its proximity became an increasing threat, and had it survived it would now be blighted by the proximity of Birmingham Airport.  Louise Alston-Roberts-West, who inherited the house from her brother in 1917, already lived in a large Warwickshire country house at Alscot Park, and although her husband died in 1918 and she moved out to make room for her son she went not to Elmdon but to Ryde in the Isle of Wight. She sold much of the 2,000 acre estate in 1920 and although she retained the house and immediate parkland until her death, it was sold by her executors to a Mr Waters who felled much of the parkland timber and returned the park to agricultural use. During the Second World War the house was acquired by the local council for use by the Home Guard, but after 1945 it was largely abandoned and left empty. In this period, unless someone moved in quickly and started repairing the damage and performing maintenance the houses soon started to deteriorate. And so it was with Elmdon Hall; the roof leaked following the theft of the lead, water cascaded down the main hall, eventually rotting the staircase which subsequently collapsed. The house became largely the playground of local children who accelerated the decline until it was a shell; the deterioration became so severe that it became prohibitively expensive to restore in the circumstances of the time, and the house was finally demolished in 1956. Today, a car park marks the site, with what remains of the parkland now a public park in which the fine old trees, lakes and estate buildings merely hint at the grand estate it once was. 

Descent: John Butler (fl. 1547)...sold c.1570 to Mayne... sold 1760 to Abraham Spooner (c.1690-1788); to son, Isaac Spooner (1736-1816/7); to son, Abraham Spooner Lillingston (d. 1834); sold 1840 to William Charles Alston (1796-1872); to son, William Charles Alston (1842-1917); to sister, Elizabeth Louise Alston-Roberts-West (1846-1929) who sold the estate; house sold 1930 to Mr. Waters, who sold 1944 to Solihull Urban District Council, which demolished the house in 1956.



Alston family of Elmdon Hall


Alston, William Charles (1796-1872), of Elmdon Hall.  Son of James Alston of Winson Green, Birmingham, chemist and refiner, and his wife Anne Holt of Woodhouses (Shropshire), born 22 March 1796.  Chemist and refiner; Guardian of the Birmingham Assay Office. JP for Warwickshire; High Sheriff of Warwickshire, 1854. He was a friend of Matthew Robinson Boulton of Soho House, Birmingham, and a trustee of his marriage settlement. He married, 8 December 1841, Elizabeth Anne (d. 1891), daughter of Col. Fetherston of Packwood House (Warks), and had issue:

(1) William Charles Alston (1842-1917) (q.v.);
(2) James Fetherston Alston (1844-97) of Elmdon Hall, born 19 October 1844; educated at Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1864; BA 1868; MA 1871); died 14 May 1897; administration of goods granted 23 July 1897 (estate £15,368)
(3) Elizabeth Louisa Alston (1846-1929) (q.v.);
(4) Frances Emily Alston (1848-1923), baptised 10 December 1848; married, 29 December 1870, Capt. Edmund Charles Cradock-Hartopp and had issue four sons and one daughter; died 1 November 1923; will proved 22 February 1924 (estate £7,867);
(5) Mary Anne Alston (1849-1927) of Newbold Beeches, Leamington (Warks), baptised 5 September 1849; married, 11 September 1890, William Mynors Smythe (d. 1917), solicitor, of Birmingham; died 14 May 1927; will proved 12 August 1927 (estate £68,415);
(6) Georgina Holt Alston (1851-52), baptised 10 December 1851; died in infancy and was buried at Elmdon, 15 February 1852.
He bought Elmdon Hall in 1840.
He died at Buxton (Derbys), 18 August 1872; his will was proved 9 October 1862 (estate under £180,000). His widow died 14 November 1891; her will was proved 1 March 1892 (estate £3,053).

Alston, William Charles (1842-1917), of Elmdon Hall.  Elder son of William Charles Alston (1796-1872) and his wife Elizabeth Anne, daughter of Col. Fetherston of Packwood House (Warks), born 2 November 1842. Educated at Rugby School, Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1861; BA 1865; MA 1871) and Inner Temple (admitted 1864). JP and DL for Warwickshire; High Sheriff of Warwickshire, 1884. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Elmdon Hall from his father in 1872.  At his death, the estate passed to his elder sister, Louisa.
He died 27 June 1917 and his will was proved 23 October 1917 (estate £82,874).

Alston-Roberts-West (née Alston), Elizabeth Louisa (1846-1929), of Elmdon Hall.  Eldest daughter of William Charles Alston (1796-1872) and his wife Elizabeth Anne, daughter of Col. Fetherston of Packwood House (Warks), born 1846. She married, 18 November 1869, James Roberts-West (d. 1918) of Alscot Park (Warks) and had issue:
(1) James Beaumont Alston-Roberts-West (1871-1942); married, 20 November 1894, Annette Guilford (1863-1912); died without issue, 14 February 1942; administration granted 24 October 1942 (estate £30,299);
(2) Capt. Henry Charles John Alston-Roberts-West (1873-1931); Capt. in the Army; married, December 1899, Olive Molineux Montgomerie and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 1 November 1931; will proved 22 March 1931 (estate £2,676);
(3) Capt. Reginald Montague Alston-Roberts-West (1875-1944), born 14 June 1875; Captain in Royal Navy; married, 25 November 1913, Mildred Evelyn Nora Cradock-Hartopp and had issue one son and two daughters; died, 14 December 1944; will proved 5 March 1945 (estate £4,682);
(4) Algernon Charles Philip Alston-Roberts-West (1878-1933), baptised 8 May 1878; married, 1919, Eveline Church (d. 1922), daughter of George Nicholas Marcy of Chelmarsh Hall (Shropshire); died without issue, 20 April 1933; will proved 23 August 1933 (estate £2,429).
She inherited Elmdon Hall from her brother in 1917, but sold much of the estate in 1920. The Hall was sold after her death.
She died 8 June 1929. Her will was proved 11 October and 14 November 1929 (estate £111,731)


Sources


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1898, i, p. 18; Fox-Davies, Armorial Families, 1929, p. 34; http://lh.matthewbeckett.com/houses/lh_warwickshire_elmdonhall.html 


Location of archives


No significant archive is known to survive. The papers of the Alston-Roberts-West family do not appear to contain any relevant material.


Coat of arms


Azure, ten estoiles, four, three, two and one or, on a chief argent, a crescent reversed gules between two boars' heads erased sable.

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