Three Men In A Boathouse – Poulett Lodge. By Anne Logie

Anne Logie, Historic Environment volunteer, writes:

POULETT  LODGE, TWICKENHAM *AExceedingly Choice Freehold Residence containing fourteen capital bed and dressing rooms, bath room, three elegant reception rooms, billiard room, breakfast room, and well arranged domestic offices.  Modern stabling for eight horses, lodge entrance, boathouse, floating dock, and delightfully timbered grounds of about two and a half acres, comprising pleasure gardens and lawns to river; walled kitchen and fruit garden, ranges of peach and nectarine houses, forcing houses, vineries, etc. Situated on the banks of the Thames, within ten minutes’ walk of railway station.

In the 3 May 1903 edition of The Windsor and Eton Express Chancellor and Sons advertised that Poulett Lodge, Twickenham, was to be sold, by order of the Trustees of Captain Willis, deceased.  It was a bad time to be selling large houses, and indeed Chancellor and Sons advertised in the same edition of the Express the imminent sale of the even grander York House, also in Twickenham.

A sharp-eyed traveller through Twickenham might notice on Cross Deep, quite close to the intersection with Heath Road and King Street, a low brick wall beneath a shrubbery which curves in to the mouth of a driveway bearing a sign saying ‘Thames Eyot’ with additional privacy notices.  Peering beyond the sign one can see a small section of brick building a little distance away.  Not much to look at.  Some curious gate posts, and odd bits of wall against the main road, but nothing more.   Were that same traveller to then stroll along the Surrey shore of the Thames they would doubtless gaze with wild surmise upon a lengthy expanse of 1930s apartment block set in grounds running down to a balustrade running along five hundred and fifty feet of river front, with a staircase in the centre and a large boathouse set in to the wall at one corner.  This building is Thames Eyot, and it covers the ground where Poulett Lodge once stood.  The balustrade and the boathouse are the Grade II listed remains of the Victorian Poulett Lodge; also within the grounds are a Grade II listed grotto and loggia, remains of an earlier version of the house, and also on Historic England’s at-risk register.

The house wasn’t always known as Poulett Lodge.  According to ‘Thames Eyot: The site of Poulett Lodge – the history of a plot of ground in Twickenham since1700’ published by Twickenham Museum (I strongly recommend this pamphlet to anyone wanting a detailed history of the site) the first house within the grounds was constructed for Sir Thomas Skipwith, Bart (d.1710).  The pamphlet continues “The research undertaken on his life by Anthony Beckles Willson suggests that he came to live in Twickenham from 1701 to 1709 in order to avoid his wife from whom he was estranged.  He may have rented Copt Hall, a house near by, for his mistress and her daughter.”  I like this beginning.  It seems to suit the complicated histories of the various characters who passed through over the years.  The house was often tenanted, rather than occupied by its owner.  Although information about its original design is sketchy, it seems that people soon started tinkering with it.  The first person to do so was its first tenant, John Erskine, Earl of Mar.  In 1722 John Macky, the author of Journey Through England, referred to Mar as a great architect.  Mar is possibly more widely known to people today as “Bobbing John”, so called for his frequent political shifts.  Ultimately he came out for the Jacobites and was forced into permanent exile in 1715, but is recalled in the Jacobite song ‘Come Ye O’er Frae France?’ (recording of performance by Owen Hand, from the album “Border Lands” – )

“Bobbing John” Erskine, Earl of Mar (1675 – 1732)

The next significant event in the history of the property occurred on 14 June 1734 when, as reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine, the house, which was then occupied by M Chavigny, the French Ambassador, was entirely consumed with all its furniture as the result of a fire started in the confectionary.  “M Le Grosse, the Confectioner, by endeavouring to save his Money, perished in the Flames”.

The grounds lay empty for the next six years before being sold to Dr William Battie, who built a new house there, which became known simply as Dr Battie’s House (sometimes spelt as Batty).  Battie was a remarkable character, very clever and, like most educated men of his day, with wide interests.  He was a medical doctor specialising in diseases of the mind (an ‘alienist’ in the terminology of the time), and was strongly opposed to the methods used in Bedlam.  He was the author of ‘A Treatise on Madness’ (1758) and was appointed President of the Royal College Of Physicians in 1764. He endowed a scholarship at Kings College, Cambridge, known as Battie’s Foundation, and according to H M Cundell (‘Bygone Richmond’ pub 1925) was responsible for promoting a scheme to have barges pulled by horses instead of men.  Naturally this made him unpopular with the men who earned their living towing, and he only narrowly escaped being thrown off Kingston Bridge by them.  He had come into a substantial legacy, in addition to the income he received from his medical interests, and spent over £1,500 promoting his scheme for horse drawn barges.  There is a well known print which is a view of Dr Batty’s (sic) house from the Surrey shore, and prominent in the foreground is a barge being pulled by horses, which Cundell speculates is a direct reference to Battie’s promotion of this change in practice.  Dr Batty’s House At Twickenham As View’d from the Opposite Shore Of The Thames.  Battie was renowned as an eccentric and William Munk alluded to the many anecdotes which circulated about him.  Munk quoted Nichol’s Literary Anecdotes and Jesse’s Memoirs of Celebrated Etonians (Vol.i. p.18, et seq)  “He was of eccentric habits, singular in his dress, sometimes appearing like a labourer, and doing strange things. Notwithstanding his peculiarities, he is to be looked upon as a man of learning, of benevolent spirit, humour, inclination to satire, and considerable skill in his profession.”  (

In 1759 Battie conveyed the property to Nathaniel Lloyd, who was the uncle of Mary Butt, wife of Vere, 3rd Earl Poulett and therefore Countess Poulett, and on Lloyd’s death in 1774 the property passed to her.  After Vere’s death she stayed on at the house, starting a tradition of its use as a Dower House.  It’s not clear exactly when the property became known as Poulett Lodge.  The 5th Earl’s sons predeceased him and on his death the estate passed to his nephew, who put the house on the market

On 3 August 1838 the property was advertised to be sold freehold or let furnished.  The advertisement noted that the Dowager Lady Poulett had expended large sums in its embellishment.  Features included the lawn, well proportioned and lofty suite of apartments having galleries and handsome verandahs on the river front, stabling, laundry, gas laid on, shrubberies, conservatories, temple, grapery etc.

The house was bought by a Mr Andrew Maclew, who died in the spring of 1847.  His personal estate was valued at £120,000 and he made many generous bequests, leaving Poulett Lodge and its furniture to his friend Charles Martyn, who must have soon put it up for sale, as by September 1848 Farebrothers auctioneers were advertising themselves by the speed with which they had sold Poulett Lodge to Lady Ogilvie for £10,000.

In January 1871 an auction of the contents of Poulett Lodge was advertised  The list is amazing for its opulence: mahogany four-post and iron French and Arabian bedsteads, hangings and curtains to correspond; palliasses, horsehair and wool mattresses, goose feather beds; hip, sponging, and other baths; Axminster and Brussels carpets; etc etc.  The house was about to undergo its most substantial change – William Henry Punchard had arrived.

Punchard was a civil engineer and contractor, associated with the firms of Edwin Clark, Punchard and Co; Henry Edmund Punchard; and Punchard, McTaggart, Lowther, and Co.  Through his companies he worked on railways and other construction projects throughout the world.  Punchard seems to have been someone who worked on a large scale.  He had Poulett Lodge totally reconstructed to a design by Frederick Chancellor, turning it into an eighteen bedroom mansion with artwork done by painters from Italy, cupids, caryatids, a stained glass staircase window of Longfellow’s Evangeline, and many more opulent decorative touches.  In the grounds Chancellor created a raised terrace separated from the river by an Italianate stone balustrade topped at regular intervals by large planters, and set in to the wall at the extreme downriver corner of the property and ingenious boathouse with a floating dock, the Thames still being tidal at this point.  The only remnants of the earlier version of the house were the loggia and the shell grotto on the upriver side of the grounds.

Punchard was clearly popular.  He was a sportsman and made his grounds available to the Twickenham Football Club for their annual Athletic Events, at which military bands played and a good time was presumably had by all.

In 1879 both Punchard and his partner Edwin Clark filed for bankruptcy; the newspapers reported that he was down for liabilities of £900,000, principally due to some issue with the Lisbon Tramways Company, however he weathered the storm and within a few years was back at work on the construction of railways in Brazil and South Africa.  The report in the Middlesex Chronicle on 7 June 1879 of his impending bankruptcy commented “We trust that Mr Punchard’s difficulties may be tided over, as during his occupancy of Poulett Lodge he has spent a large amount of money in the parish, and his liberality in granting the run of his splendid conservatories and hot houses to decorate the Town Hall on behalf of local charities, and giving the use of his grounds for the athletic meetings of the Twickenham club, are only one or two instances of his many acts of liberality.”  It was reported that Punchard had spent £70,000 on the reconstruction of the house and grounds of Poulett Lodge, but now all was once again up for auction, and the house was sold to Mr J E Meek for £13,100.

Mr Meek seems to have been quite a different sort of man.  The references to Twickenham Football Club vanish in favour of various garden shows.  It is possible that any natural inclination Mr Meek had towards allowing in garden clubs might have been encouraged by his gardener, William Bates.  Bates had been working at Poulett Lodge in Punchard’s time, and seems to have been something of a horticultural star.  The Twickenham Horticultural and Cottage Garden Society now had their annual show in Poulett Lodge grounds, and Mr Bates was regularly winning first prizes in various categories of flower and fruit.    Mr Meek was also generous in providing the use of his thirty-five foot steam launch.  The launch came near to grief in the winter of 1881, when the Thames froze over completely for the first time since 1855.  The launch went down at her moorings during a gale, but the watermen managed to raise her.  Everything seemed to be going well, and in February 1882 Mr Meek married Mary Gardiner of Saville House, Twickenham, but on 22 November 1884 he died at Brighton after a sudden illness.  He was buried at Basing Park, the home of his brother-in-law and business partner W Nicholson, MP, their business being Nicholson and Co., Distillers.

1885 saw the return of an athletic meeting to Poulett Lodge grounds with the agreement of Mrs Meek, but by now things seem to have been being looked after largely by Mr Bates.

As an interesting reflection of the change of mood, in February 1878, when Mr Punchard owned Poulett Lodge it was reported in The Sportsman that the professional fishermen on the Thames had seen a fine deer making straight for the Thames and “gallantly taking the water” from the Surrey side opposite Countess Waldegrave’s at Strawberry Hill.  Blood was up and boats of all kinds were soon in pursuit of the deer, which after half an hour made for the river wall of Poulett Lodge, where a cordon of boats was formed, and the deer was landed and handed over to the huntsman, who “liberally rewarded the captors”.  The deer was taken to a farm at Ham and later slaughtered.  In November 1888 Mr Bates found a stag wandering about in the garden of Poulett Lodge; it had evidently wandered out of Richmond Park and swum the river.  Mr Bates called up some assistance, and they managed to lock the stag in the potting shed for the night.  Messages were sent to the police in the morning, and head keeper of Richmond Park came and took the stag back to the park by cart.

There were a number of changes of ownership and tenancy, and the land was split – Poulett Lodge’s grounds having originally spread on both sides of the road called Cross Deep.  Mr Bates continued to work as gardener, and was given the run of the land on the inland side of Cross Deep, but that land was now owned by Mr Nicholson, Mr Meek’s brother-in-law..

As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, by the turn of the century it was becoming hard to run or sell large properties.  There had been an agricultural slump, staff was becoming scarce, and there were inheritance taxes to pay.  With the outward expansion of housing from London large properties were likely to be sold to developers who would split up the land for small houses and shops.  The trams were coming, and councils were giving serious thought to how best to accommodate them.

The turnover of tenants/owners increased – even Jack Whitehead of Richmond and Hanworth Aeroplane fame owned the house briefly.

As a last ditch attempt to save the property and find some use for it, two attempts were made to convert it into a club – The Tatler of 21 July 1926 reporting that the Monte Carlo club had been formed had a membership of over a thousand.  The Monte Carlo folded quickly – one source suggested there might have been a problem with the alcohol licence.  A second club, the Newborough club, but although it staggered on for a little longer it ultimately failed.  While the Council debated the best course of action for the land Poulett Lodge and grounds were bought by a butcher, Ernest William Skull, as an investment.  Mr Skull had a butcher shop in King Street which was demolished in 1928 for compulsory widening of the road.  Although he wanted to break up the land he was unable to settle with the council on the numbers so instead tore down Poulett House and built Thames Eyot as a block of 68 service flats in 1934-5, though the provision of service did not survive the war.

The boathouse which still survives can be seen from the footbridge to Eel Pie Island, and of course the original balustrade frontage can be seen from the Surrey shore.

Richmond Local Studies Library has an old photograph of the boathouse.  On the back someone has written “Boathouse to Poulett Lodge built about fifteen years ago, almost regardless of expense.  Fitted with floating raft, now useless.  Property has been for sale for several years – April 21st 1891.”  The boathouse is listed by Historic England for its rarity.  Let us hope it and the other few remnants of this property’s historic past can be revived.

The principle sources for the article are:

Thames Eyot, The site of Poulett Lodge.  Twickenham Museum 2005, reprinted 2015 
Twickenham In The Eighteenth Century – Hilda Finberg, unpublished manuscript held in Richmond Local Studies and Archive Library  (L942.19TI)
British Newspaper Online Archive
Article by Anne Logie, Historic Environment volunteer

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