Those of you who followed this blog during the first days of lockdown last year may remember my post about The Elms, a rather grand house in Fitzroy Park.
It had been in a sad state of disrepair in the 1990s when I first came across it (indeed, it had got onto the ‘buildings at risk’ register) but was bought some time in the early 2000s, we know not by whom, and refurbishment got under way. A listed building enforcement notice was served in 2012 following ‘unauthorised works’ but planning permission was subsequently obtained and works resumed. However, it appears that despite the prodigious sums that must have been spent on it, no one is actually living there. So my revelation is not about The Elms’ current state or owners, but about its past.
The house was built in 1839 by the architect George Basevi who also designed Beechwood, my next door neighbour in Hampstead Lane. George lived in the house himself for six years until, while inspecting the repairs in the west tower of Ely Cathedral he fell through an opening in the floor of the old bell chamber thus putting a sudden end to both his career and his life. After his death the house was sold to William Gladstone, East India Merchant (and a relative of the Prime Minister?) then in 1868 to Samuel Pope QC, and finally to Otto Gossell in 1874.
How have I discovered all this? Well, because Fiona Mather, Otto Gossell’s great, great, granddaughter commented on my original blog as she thought we might be interested!
Otto JT Gossell was German by birth but was naturalised as an Englishman in the 1860s. And here he is wearing, Fiona tells us, ‘the Ritterkreuze Albrecht Order First Class given to him by the King of Saxony although we do not know what for.’
Otto traded ‘in steel and everything to do with railways (locomotives, locomotive parts, rails etc) between England and Germany from an office in the City’. The firm continued under his son, another Otto, then under Fiona’s grandfather Capt Kenneth O T Gossell MC, and finally her mother, Elizabeth Audrey Bell (née Gossell) until it was finally brought down by World War II.
Otto who, apart from ‘trading in steel’ also collected music manuscripts, lived in the Elms with his wife and three children from 1874 till his death in 1888 – at which point his trustees put the house the market. But what makes this very much more interesting, to me at least, is that Fiona has unearthed a copy of the sale advertisement in the Times – a fascinating peek into the domestic arrangements of a well to do Victorian family.
Since it is a bit of a struggle to read, there is a transcript below.Highgate. – A choice Freehold Detached Residence, with stabling entrance lodge, and well timbered ground of four acres, in an exceptionally beautiful elevated position. 19 minutes walk from Highgate Station G.N.R and only 41/2 miles from the City and Westend, but possessing the retirement and complete surroundings of a country home, the house commanding an extensive and uninterrupted view over a charming range of landscape scenery, including Caen Wood, the seat of the Earl of Mansfield and extending to Hampstead. By order of the Trustees of the late Otto Gossell Esq. With possession.
MESSERS. DEBENHAM, TEWSON, FARMER and BRIDGEWATER will sell at the Mart, on TUESDAY July 15, at two (unless previously disposed of).
The very attractive FREEHOLD RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY, Elm Lodge, Fitzroy Park, Highgate: the residence is approached by a carriage drive, protected by an ornamental lodge, and contains 13 bed and dressing rooms, two small sitting-rooms, well-fitted bathroom and lavatory, good entrance and inner halls, capital dining room about 20ft (including bay) by 19ft; morning room about 16 ft 6 in. by 13ft 2in; library about 22ft 6in by 16ft, communicating with a remarkably pleasant drawing room about 23ft 4in by 20ft 6in, having a pretty conservatory and a second drawing room adjoining; an excellent billiard room about 23ft by 19ft, lavatory, butler’s pantry, housekeeper’s room and usual offices with ample cellarage, stores closet & etc; detached stabling, with separate entrance from the road, four stalls and three loose boxes, harness room, two coach houses, three rooms for coachman and a large loft; the undulating grounds are embellished with old timber trees, and are laid out with handsome lawns, shrubberies and gravelled walks: there are good fruit and vegetable gardens, a largish greenhouse well stocked with vines, stove house, forging pits, tool and potting sheds, poultry house & etc; also a grass paddock, in all about four acres. A tenancy of an adjoining paddock, which has been held with this property, may, it is believed, be arranged for.
Particulars of T.G.Ballen Esq., solicitor, 69 Cheapside; of Messers Prickett and Ellis estate agents, 60 Chancery Lane and Highgate; and of the auctioneers, 80 Cheapside.
Those who have come to accept en suite bathrooms as the norm in any modern house will no doubt have noted that despite the prodigious number of bed/dressing rooms (13) and living rooms (9), not to mention pantries, houeskeeper’s rooms and ‘all the usual offices’ there was only one bathroom and two lavatories. One has to wonder whether some of the ‘undulating grounds’ may not on occasion also have been called into service.
According to John Richardson’s Highgate: Its history since the Fifteenth Century, despite the glowing advertisement, the house did not actually sell as Elizabeth Gossell, presumably Otto’s widow, is shown to have lived there from 1889 to 1893. But…. Fiona says that may not be accurate as by 1891 Eliza was is Wood Lane, Hornsey, having ‘downsized’ from spacious lawns of The Elms. In any case in 1893 the house was sold to Edwin King, about whom we know nothing. He did however, live there until 1923 when he sold it to Rachel Gorer who, according to John Richardson, was there till 1939. No mention of what happened during the war but Hector Little, estate agent, was noted as the owner in 1952. And then there is silence and presumably the decay which was so advanced by the 1990s, set in. Let us hope that some more details come our way in due course……..