The Red House

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“The Red House”

by Michael Treisman

(OL 1963 – 1970)

Local OL, Michael Treisman (1963 – 1970), presents the results of his investigations into some architectural mysteries surrounding The Red House.  (Right:  The Red House, prior to the 1883 alterations.  To view further the images, please click here.)

I have always admired The Red House and found it a most interesting building. My first two years at the School were spent there, and, as a keen member of the gardening club, most lunch hours thereafter.  I was aware that the part facing Middle Road was older and that the later part dated from 1883, but knew little more.

Three features particularly intrigued me: the curious monogram at the centre of the gable overlooking the garden; the marks towards the top of the brickwork of the gable-end of the old part facing Crown Street, suggestive of another, lower building having once abutted it; and the rather grand back door (now, alas, replaced) with its ornate knocker, adjacent to the then tuck shop (currently the 1876 Reading Room).

I recently went on an historical walk over the hill, arranged by the Harrow Hill Trust, looking at examples of the work of the eminent, local architect Edward Schroeder Prior.  It was he who redesigned The Red House for his brother, John Templer Prior, the then owner: hence the monogram based on his initials, ‘J.T.P.’.  Viewing The Red House, I was surprised to see that this monogram had disappeared.

I took this up with the School and exhaustive inquiries ensued, but to no avail.  It has evidently been missing for many years, at least since the 1980s.

However, shortly before she left, Michelle Gascoine kindly lent me a fascinating archive of material concerning The Red House, which came to light during the search.  It was evidently prepared by, or at the behest of, the then headmaster, Mr. Campbell, in 1956, following the School’s acquisition of The Red House.  The archive comprises a variety of documents, including a schedule of deeds, auction particulars, photographs, original drawings by E.S. Prior for the 1883 alterations, and letters from various members of the Prior family containing reminiscences of life in the house prior to and after the 1883 alterations.

The original building is Georgian, possibly dating from 1810.

An original (cracked) pane of glass from the nursery window - in my time of a window of the headmaster’s study - is etched with the date 29th June 1815 and is with the archive. However, a house in the position of The Red House appears in 18th-century maps, with access to the front from the junction of Crown Street and Byron Hill Road.  (Middle Road did not then exist, the land being part of Roxeth Common – on which the School was also built.)

J.T. Prior was a prominent member of the local temperance movement. However, in 1873, he acquired three small cottages, including “The Wheatsheaf” public house which was subject to a lease expiring in 1890.  The cottages abutted the gable-end of The Red House, with the pub facing Crown Street.

In 1877, The Red House came up for auction. With the Metropolitan Railway shortly due to open a station at the foot of Harrow Hill, property prices were rising and the auctioneers anticipated that it might be necessary to divide the garden up into three plots in order to get the best price.  J.T. Prior, however, was able to buy the whole property.  He let it temporarily to his cousin, on his return from India in 1879.  A fire occurred in an attic in 1881, following which J. T. Prior commissioned his architect brother Edward to prepare plans for the alterations, which are now contained in the archive. The builder was William Woodbridge.

A photograph of circa. 1880 reveals that the original building had the front door in the centre of the wall facing Middle Road.  That door was to be repositioned as the new back door: hence its grandeur.  In 1883, the rear section of the house was demolished and rebuilt on a much larger scale. The monogram was evidently an idea of J.T. Prior whilst building was in progress: it does not appear on the original drawing - indeed, the entire gable and porch are quite different.

In 1884, the lease of The Wheatsheaf was surrendered - presumably bought out by J.T. Prior - facilitating demolition of the cottages and pub, as indicated in the drawings.  Nevertheless, the mark on The Red House wall remains visible to this day.

In July 1923, the Prior family’s connection with the house ceased, when it was sold to Mrs. E.M. MacLeod.  The sale particulars, incorporating a contemporary photograph, are also in the archive.

The house was acquired by the school in 1955, to provide accommodation for the first and second forms, as well as the headmaster’s study and a Music School, until the opening of the music school in 1966, when it became a Red House Prefects’ Room.

 

[1] The School’s former Alumni Relations Manager

[2] The temperance movement campaigned against the sale and consumption of alcohol