The history of Bourne Hall, Ewell: I
The Bourne Hall we know today, with its library, museum, concert hall and other facilities, was opened to the public in 1970. It stands on the site of a Georgian mansion which, in its last days, served as a boarding school for girls. In the mid eighteenth century London merchants were building for themselves handsome houses within easy travelling distance of the City. One such was Philip Rowden, who in 1765 began to acquire land in Ewell.
Philip Rowden was born in about 1721, the son of a Hampshire carpenter, and thirty years later became a Freeman of the Vintners’ Company. He seems to have had an interest in the partnership of Houldsworth and Mascall, vintners, of Lombard Street. As Master of the Vintners’ Company in 1780, he was called upon to supply the wine for banquets, and to provide an entertainment at Richmond for the annual ceremony of swan upping, when the Company’s swans were marked to distinguish them from those belonging to the Dyers’ Company or to the Crown. The year 1780 was memorable in London for the Gordon Riots, which lasted several days and put citizens and property in some peril. During Rowden’s Mastership the Company was called upon to contribute to the cost of entertaining troops sent into the City to protect persons and property ‘during the late tumult’. Consideration of this request was deferred until it should be known what other Companies proposed to do, but the Committee, under Rowden’s chairmanship, took steps to ‘find a more secure place for keeping the Company’s title deeds’.
By 1770 Philip Rowden had acquired most of the land bounded by High Street, Spring Street, Chessington Road and Kingston Road (to use the modern names), and had his mansion built on the highest point. The architect is not known. There are some drawings in existence, one of which is inscribed ‘Designed for Mr. Rowden at Yoel, 1765’, and another bears the signature of William Newton, architect. William Newton was well known in his day, mainly for his work at Greenwich Hospital. Between 1764 and 1768 The Durdans at Epsom was rebuilt to his design.
It is not known whether his designs for a house at Ewell were ever executed. It has been suggested that he was concerned only with proposed alterations. A note on one of the drawings reports that ‘the architect has made a kitchen on this principal storey in compliance with the proprietor’s desire which would be better placed in the basement story, by which a fine range of apartments would be possible on the principal storey’. It is pleasant to think that the owner may have had the comfort of his servants in mind, while sympathising with an architect frustrated by his client’s unconventional ideas.
Cloudesley Willis, writing in 1949, describes the house as it was in his day. ‘It is of two storeys and a semi-basement with angular bays at the ends, a hipped roof and, above the centre compartment, a pediment that cuts the parapet. The front door is enclosed in a semi-circular Ionic peristyle approached by encircling stone steps, with wrought-iron ramps which are continued along the balconies of the ground-floor windows’. This account, which appeared in Surrey Archaeological Collections 51, continues with a description of the interior, which had doubtless seen many changes over the years.
The mansion, when first built, does not seem to have had a name. Edwards, in his Companion from London to Brightelmstone (dated about 1789), calls it ‘the seat of Philip Rowden Esq.’ and continues ‘it has been erected 19 years and appears to be executed in the modern taste; between it and the road is a handsome green plat, at the bottom of which runs a fine crystalline river shaded by lofty elm trees’.
The ‘green plat’ is thought to cover the site of a mansion which was built, probably towards the end of the fifteenth century, for Henry Saunder, a member of the family which owned the manor of Bottalls in Ewell for about two hundred years until the manor was sold by Nicholas Saunder in 1659. Surrey Archaeological Collections 54 contains an account of the manor and the Saunder family in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The new mansion was to be Philip Rowden’s home until his death on the 5th January 1795. His wife had died some eight years before him and he seems to have had no direct descendants. His will makes a reference to his ‘family’ but no relationships are stated for his beneficiaries, of whom the principal were Mary Baker and Philip Holdsworth. Other legatees were Rowden Holdsworth and another Philip, then an infant, as well as other members of the Baker family. Mary Baker inherited most of the contents of the house and, among other bequests, was to receive £300 ‘to enable her to continue housekeeping at my house… four months’.
The Parish Registers record the marriage in 1796 of Mary Baker and Samuel Smith, who, in a deed executed in that year, is described as Second Officer on the Lord Macartney, East Indiaman.
The testator appointed as his executors Richard Carpenter Smith and James Hebard, both men of standing in Ewell, and directed that all his property should be sold and the proceeds remaining, after other charges had been paid, should be divided between Mary Baker and Philip Holdsworth.
Extracts from the will of Philip Rowden dated 28th November 1794:
‘I give and bequeath unto Miss Mary Baker, daughter of John and Mary Baker of Brasted in Kent… all the furniture of the house I live in at Ewell including therein pictures linen and china (except the furniture of the Drawing Room and the pictures in the Dining Room).
Also I give unto the said Mary Baker my smallest silver salver, my case of large silver knives and forks, eight large silver spoons with the Vintners’ Arms and all my silver teaspoons and tea tongs and silver cream jug and my largest pair of silver candlesticks and silver snuffer box and also all my printed books of divinity and religion of every kind, including the bookcase in which my books are placed and also all my books of magazines and Fielding’s works…
Also I give to the said Philip Holdsworth the furniture of my Drawing Room and the pictures in my Dining Room and also the residue of my plate together with all the residue of my printed books.
Also I give two chaldron of coals to be distributed amongst the poor of Ewell not being in the workhouse.
Also I give mourning at the discretion of my Executors to six poor men and six poor widows of the said parish of Ewell and whom my Executors shall think proper to nominate and my will and mind is that the six poor men and six poor widows do assemble at my house on the Sunday morning next after my funeral and from thence attend my family to church to hear Divine Service and at such time I direct my Executors to give unto them five shillings apiece. And it being my will and desire that my pair of coach horses should be killed immediately after my decease I request my Executors will order the same in case I should not have parted with my horses in my lifetime which at present I have some thoughts of doing’.
In June 1796 the mansion and surrounding property was purchased by Thomas Hercey Barritt.