Welcombe

The many lives of an intriguing Grade II Listed building


The Welcome – for sale

This page was first published in April 2014, following the announcement of the closure of Harpenden House Hotel, and was modified in October 2014. A report commissioned from Turley Heritage was submitted to St Albans City and District Planning Department in February 2016 (revised June 2016), which adds considerable detail to understanding this complex building – appended as a document below,.

The page has been further revised following the marketing of five apartments in Welcombe House in September 2019. Information about earlier inhabitants has been transferred to a separate page.

The sequence of photographs at the foot of the page (nos. 1-16) starts with scans from the Hodgson family album of the house which is thought to date from c.1900, This is followed by photos showing adaptations during the twentieth century drawn from catalogue photos. Finally photos taken during the renovation of Welcombe House and development its grounds for addional dwellings and apartments from 2017 to 2019.


The house

Very little is known about the origins and early owners of Welcombe, with its imposing, but oddly asymmetrical early eighteenth century three-storey façade facing south-west across the Common. However it is likely that this wing, with its handsome doorway and ‘broken segmented pediment’ of 1710-20, (Pevsner: Hertfordshire 1953/2018), and imposing central entry hall and staircase, was added to a seventeenth century timber-frame house. Some timber beams and walling, suggesting a hall and cross-wing of an earlier structure were still evident in the kitchen quarters and above them when the building was refurbished in the mid 1970s. However there is little sign of this now, and beams at attic and cellar levels offer conflicting evidence. The massive chimney, with four flues, at the junction of the three wings of the building has not been adequately examined.

At this early period the house probably faced south-east, maybe with a courtyard overlooking the gardens, and a lane running from the Common to the north of the old wing. Possibly it was contemporaneous with the earlier parts of Bennetts (The Royal British Legion), Leyton Road.

Puzzling architectural features

Late eighteenth century wing added to south end of main frontage

Small inner courtyard, looking south over the late C18 extension

 

Later in the eighteenth century a new wing was added on the south-east corner behind the 1720s frontage (see view from the garden, showing the join in the brickwork). Possibly this enclosed the courtyard of which a small section remains. No paintings, sketches or plans have survived showing the house at this stage in its development,


Victorian extensions

Part of the plan of the Welcombe estate in 1868 – the year that Henry Tylston Hodgson bought it. This raises interesting issues about the origins of what appears to be a Victorian extension alongside the drive. The houses facing the Common include cottages on the site of Maple cottages and Friends Meeting House (8-14 Southdown Road) later rebuilt by HT Hodgson, The Dene (15) and The Cedars (16). The substantial cottages for coachman/gardener had already bee built. They were not demolished until the early 1970s. The main house was extended stubstantially on the eastern (railway) side. There was a right of way between The Cedars and Welcombe, which was obstructed by the building of the railway through land belongingto the Packe & Pym estate.

The plan of the estate in 1868 when Henry Tylston Hodgson bought Welcombe indicates a building of similar dimensions to the two-storey wing, in ‘cottage’ style at right-angles to the main façade. It appears to have been refurbished possibly in the 1870s/80s. This may initially have been accessed through the loggia and entry lobby, which had been added to the south-west main façade, and with later (and current) access through the massive chimney, thought to be part of the seventeenth century wing.

C19 Entry porch, veranda, ‘cottage style’ wing and enlargement of drawing room on the SE corner added to the Georgian frontage, as seen in 1918

Welcombe, c.1880 from the south, with conservatory added to C18 wings, and prior to extension to the east.

Extract from 1879 OS map from Harpenden Hall to Welcombe estate – indicating the extensions to the front facade, the extension to the east of the main house, a large stable block and the rebuilding of Maple cottages, and possibly of the coachman/gardener’s cottages.

The entry lobby masked the main doorway during the late nineteenth century, when the drawing room was extended south-westwards on the SE corner of the main façade, piercing the front wall at ground-floor level. An extensive wing on the south-east/north-east corner was also added in the late 1880s. A photo thought to be dated 1890/1900 shows only the C18 wing facing southwards to the formal gardens – see Thurston album 2, 3 and 4 below.

Restoration of the Eighteenth century frontage – 1920s

Welcombe, c.1930, showing early C18 frontage, restored after being extended in the C19, and mid C19 ‘cottage-style’ wing.

The hall and staircase pre 1918

Welcome, Hall & staircase, 1920s. Note archway to staircase and panelling inserted in 1920s.

The 1920s

Following the death of Henry Tylston Hodgson in 1918, the property was sold to Mr and Mrs Leslie Walton, who were granted planning permission to makes alterations (HUDC minutes 15 August 1919. It would be very interesting to see the details of the application).

It appears that the front of the house was restored both externally and internally to match its eighteenth century origins, of which there is no original image.

The hall entrance and dining room for which photos in 1930 survive, show simple panelling and an archway to the staircase, with the removal of the Victorian-style furnishings seen in Frederick Thurston’s photos of pre-1918.

The dining room is one feature which we can trace from the Hodgsons, through the Waltons and the Convent to the Hotel:


The Hodgsons’ dining room

The Walton’s dining room – 1920s

Dominican chapel, c.1960s, in former 1920s dining room

30. Harpenden House Hotel – Boardroom, probably in the Dominican chapel/1930 dining room. Later opened up to the front lobby with pillars: see photo taken prior to the auction of contents, March 2014, below.

The south-west and south-east façades also appear to have been restored to a symmetrical arrangements of windows and roofing, linking the late eighteenth century wing to the late nineteenth-century additions.

The gardens remained largely unchanged and were the scene of many fund-raising events during the 1920s.

The Tennis courts and garden, viewed from Welcombe, July 1918

Welcombe, c.1930, showing alterations to C18 bays of the south front and east wing added in c.190

These features survived through the occupation by the Dominican Convent school from 1930-1964 when the  lawns became playing fields.

The Convent School – St Dominics

St Dominic’s Convent – nun with primary school children outside Welcombe c 1964

The Welcombe estate was sold in 1933, at which time The Dominican Sisters, who had been running a school in Harpenden Hall, moved to Welcombe with its ten acres of land. It was renamed the Convent.

 

In 1936 Lourdes Hall was built in the grounds, and dedicated by Canon Longstaff. Extensions for the expanding school, which also had boarders, were built.

St Dominic’s pupils on the main staircase, 1960s

By 1955 numbers had grown, so land belonging to the estate along Southdown Road beyond Lourdes Hall was sold for housing (numbers 31-36) to fund the building of the purpose-designed school which was opened as St Dominic’s Roman Catholic School in 1964.


Conversion to a hotel – 1970s

Harpenden House Hotel – main staircase, 1970s, which replaced the C18 staircase.

Moat House Hotels were responsible for many internal alternations, moving walls and doorways on the ground floor, inserting mock Adam-style ionic columns in the eighteenth century ranges, and re-configuring late nineteenth century rooms to form a long “Georgian” dining room with three archways along each side, those on the east side giving access to a new single-storey extension on the north-east side.

Moat House Hotel – entry hall, reception, (stairs on the right) 1970s, after insertion of iron ionic Adam-style columns. Archway to the staircase retained from 1920s.

Ceiling of ‘Georgian’ dining room, Moat House Hotel, 1970s, facing west.

Moat House Hotel – County Bedroom, replacing bar (?) on first floor, SE corner, 1970s

The allegorical scene decorating the ceiling of the dining room was painted on paper and set within a circular papier-mâché moulded frame. Its installation was almost complete when the WEA group visited in 1971-72. On the upper floors facing the Common, plaster-board false ceilings and partitions were inserted to create bedrooms and passage-ways, concealing any possible remains of C18 features.

The former gardeners’ houses fronting Southdown Road and glasshouses behind were demolished to make way for the car park. Suites of rooms spread over the former gardens and tennis courts. Management changed a number of times, from Harpenden Moat House, to Corus to Harpenden House Hotel.


Transformed by Fairview Homes

The announcement of the sudden closure of the hotel at the beginning of April 2014 raised serious questions over the future of this Grade II* listed building.

Welcombe House and surrounding developments

The application for the redevelopment of the grounds of Welcombe and refurbishment of Welcombe House by Fairview Homes was controversial with objections from those in neighbouring properties and many others concerned about the impact on views from the Common and the scale and heights of the proposed blocks of flats and houses on the former gardens.

 

The photos below show how planners allowed increased roof-height for the buildings fronting Southdown Road, compared with copies of photos taken by Jim Jarvis in the 1950s in the Local History Society’s archives, which had been loaned to Fairview for display during the consultation processes.

View from near the Silver Cup, 1953, with Welcombe house and gardeners’ cottages and Lourdes Hall

The Welcombe development from near the Silver Cup; a car park has replaced the Silver Cup pond.

In the spring of 2019 apartments in the courtyard behind the house, and the mews and cottages were put on the market, followed by the marketing of the five apartments in Welcombe House. The design of these apartments was determined by internal walls and features which had to remain, since we understand that the project was being monitored by St Albans District Planning Department. Members of the Society, who had had access to the house in the 1970s and early 2000s, were able to view the interior of the house in April 2018, by which time the C18 wing had been stripped back to bare brickwork, and some exposed timber-framing on the back wall of this wing, but leaving no trace of plaster or panelled walls. We have not been able to view all the apartments, to see what features from the original building have survived.

The few photos we were able to take when the house was open to the public in October 2019 are from part

The Herts Advertiser Property supplement of 30 January 2020 describes the transformation of Welcombe House into five two and three bedroomed apartments, keeping “quirky layouts and uneven floors”, as stipulated by St Albans District Council planners – to ensure that no period features were lost. So certain (mainly unspecified) features have been boxed in, including the painted ceiling in the former hotel’s dining room.

Unit 2-Elizabeth: transformation of the Hodgson Billiards room, overlooking the gardens at the rear of house

Front room of the C19 ‘cottage’ wing – in Unit 2, Elizabeth


GALLERY OF PHOTOS

The pictures below show features of the interior from photographs by Frederick Thurston during the 1890s for albums owned by members of the Hodgson family. These are numbered 1 -18 (Thurston Album 1-17). Some were reproduced in subsequent sales brochures in 1918.

Numbers 19 complements photos above of the 1920s restoration of house and gardens by the Waltons, the last period when the house was a family home.

The building was adapted by the Dominican Sisters between 1932 and 1964, where relevant photos can be found on the page about the convent school .

This is followed a  sequence showing various phases of the hotel from 1970 to 2014 and concludes with photos taken during the period of redevelopment from 2017-2019 (nos.21 to x) and

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Comments about this page

  • Descendents of the Hodgson family have pointed out that the family home was known as ‘Welcombe’, not ‘The Welcombe’ – a usage which has more recently crept in. This page has therefore been edited to remove the prefix. The name most probably derives from Welcombe, Warwickshire, birthplace of Mrs Charlotte Hodgson’s father.

    By Rosemary Ross (26/03/2014)

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