This account of Harpenden Lodge was written by Eric Brandreth in 2003 and published in Newsletter 114, April/June 2011. It has been edited to emphasise the history of the house. Detailed information about family members, and anecdotes appear as separate pages.
The building of the house, 1790s
In 1791 Sir Charles Morgan Bt. of Tredegar, County Monmouth married the daughter and only child of Captain George Stoney RN and Mrs. Anne Stoney. George Stoney had had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy; he had been promoted Captain for gallant conduct in an engagement with the French in 1778 and died whilst commanding HMS Fox at Jamaica in 1784.
Four years later in 1795 Sir Charles Morgan purchased “Wells Close” in Harpenden and rebuilt the house there as a residence for his mother-in-law. There is no record of where Mrs. Stoney was living before but she lived here for eight years. She died in April 1803 and was buried in a bricked grave in the churchyard. In 1807 the Bishop of Lincoln granted a faculty to Sir Charles to exhume the body and re-bury it in the church at Bassaleg, County Monmouth (presumably his home).
The Haddens – owners from 1804 to 1857
Sir Charles sold the house, which still exists, to Major-General James Murray Hadden RA in 1804 and it is now known as Harpenden Lodge.
Born in 1750, James Murray Hadden was trained at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and given a commission in the Royal Artillery in 1771. After a distinguished active career, he was appointed Surveyor-General of the Ordnance in 1804 – the year he bought Harpenden Lodge. Having passed through all the ranks he was appointed Major-General in 1811. He died on 29 October 1817 aged 67 and was buried in the nave of the parish church of St. Nicholas.
James does not appear to have spent much time himself at Harpenden Lodge but his family lived there until 1857. His wife, Harriet Farrer, died on 11 April 1840. They had two children, William Frederick born in 1789 and James, date of birth unknown. William died on 1 June in 1821 and James on 12 February 1846.
Major-General James Murray Hadden’s grandson sold Harpenden Lodge to Gerard Wolfe Lydekker on 30 January 1857.
The Lydekkers – owners from 1857 to 1979
The Lydekkers were a Dutch family who emigrated to America in 1654. They soon owned land in Long Island, now part of New York State, but lost it in the American War of Independence so in 1783 came to England where they first took a house in London.
Gerard Wolfe Lydekker, who bought Harpenden Lodge in 1857, was born in Rochester in 1811. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge and graduated MA in 1836. He was called to the Bar in 1841, joined the Home Circuit, and practised at the Hertford and St. Albans Sessions. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and was for a time Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for West Hertfordshire.
He married Margaret Martha Peake in 1848 and they lived in Tavistock Square, London. He bought Harpenden Lodge from the Hadden family and came at the age of 46 to live in Harpenden with a wife seven years younger and three young sons; Richard 8, John 7 and Arthur 4. Edgar, the fourth son was the first to be born (1863) in Harpenden.
The three younger boys grew up, married, and left home. Richard, the eldest, graduated in 1871 and in 1874 went to India working for the Geological Survey of India.
Gerard died in 1881 a couple of months before the census. Present in the Lodge on census night were Martha, her sons John, a Barrister-at-law, (30 and not married at this time), and Edgar, 17, described as a private pupil. There were two visitors, Henry Oakley, 17, also a private pupil, a friend of Edgar’s, and Mary Bedford, 25, described as of private means. There was a staff of 6: a footman, a lady’s maid, a cook, a housemaid, a kitchen maid and a coachman.
Richard Lydekker, owner from 1881-1915
Richard of course was in India and returned home to the Lodge in 1882 and took up his position as head of the family. Shortly afterwards he married Lucy Davys, the elder daughter of the Rector of Wheathampstead. They had five children, Helen, born in 1883, Beatrice in 1884, Hilda in 1886, Gerard in 1887 and Cyril in 1889. His mother (Martha) died in 1897.
The building had been changed very little in the Lydekkers’ early years. In Gerard’s time a veranda was built across the front of the house with a lavatory at the end of it. When Richard inherited the property in 1882 he had half the conservatory replaced by a study for his scientific work. The scullery was extended and a bathroom built above it. This room and the kitchen were the only rooms in the house with running water. Gas lights were fitted in the kitchen and rooms above – but not in the remainder of the house, which was lit by oil lamps and candles. The house was connected to the main drainage scheme which the Urban District Council built in the early 1910’s.
1915 was a bad year for the family. Lucy and Richard died within a few months of each other and later in the year Cyril, serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment, was killed in action at Gallipoli. Beatrice’s wedding to Lt. Ernest Clutterbuck took place quietly in the same year, with just once group photo from which the images above have been reproduced. The family still living in the Lodge was reduced to the two sisters Helen and Hilda. Gerard was also serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment: he died in Alexandria in 1917.
“The house that time forgot”
After their brothers’ deaths the two sisters, Helen and Hilda, preserved the home almost as a shrine to them and the Lodge was not altered in any way.
The sisters lived together with an ever reducing staff until Helen died in 1956. Hilda remained alone until 1979 when she went into a nursing home. She died on 2 February 1987, just six weeks short of her 101st birthday.
The end of an era
The house was empty for four years while various planning applications were considered. The local papers constantly referred to it as “the house that time forgot”. It was badly vandalised during this time. Thieves stole fireplaces and valuable fittings as well as lead from the roof. Gangs of children broke in just to smash things. One group of seven who were caught were all under the age of ten.
The Lodge was bought by Planwell Properties (Herts) Ltd in 1983, who converted it into three luxurious self-contained flats which were ready for occupation in 1985. Such was the quality of work that they received several awards including the “RICS / The Times 1986 Conservation Award”. The “Building” publication gave the work its “Housing Design Award” for 1987.
Eric Brandreth, 2003
With thanks to Cornelia Clutterbuck, John Busby, John Lydekker, Amy Coburn and Planwell’s brochure.