York House in Twickenham is known as the heart of the council and for so many local events, but what is its history?
York House was named after the York family who owned local land. The dating of the house is a puzzle as, unusually, it is not known when it was actually built or who the architect was. A house known as York House in Twickenham is marked on the famous Moses Glover map of 1635, which is now homed in Syon House, but it is thought that this probably relates to an earlier house and not the one we see today.
Pevsner, in the latest edition of the Buildings of England, suggests that the house was built in the 1650s and remodelled in the early 18th century. The magnificent staircase was probably in the original house. The style of York House is similar to the south front of Ham House, which was extensively rebuilt in 1672 when the Duke of Lauderdale owned Ham. If the house was built in the 1650s, it was probably built when the second Earl of Manchester owned it. He had been a leading Parliamentarian in the Civil War and had commanded the Parliamentary army at Marston Moor. But, following criticism from Oliver Cromwell, he was forced to resign his position, although he remained the Speaker of the House of Lords, opposing the execution of Charles I. On the death of Cromwell he supported the restoration of Charles II.
In 1661 York House was acquired by another leading nobleman, the First Earl of Clarendon, the then Lord Chancellor, and when the King was in residence at Hampton Court, Clarendon stayed at York House, describing it as his literary villa. He stayed until 1667, when he had to flee abroad to avoid impeachment.
Over the centuries, the house has been owned or occupied by a cavalcade of notable people. One was Anne Seymour Damer, who was a distinguished sculptor and also god-daughter of Horace Walpole. In 1864, it was briefly owned by the Comte de Paris.
Later, in 1897, his son, the duc d’ Orleans, acquired the house, but sold it in 1906 to Sir Ratan Tata, a major Indian industrialist. Tata was responsible for the fountain and the spectacular Italian statuary in the garden. He also set up the Social Science department of the LSE. He died in 1918 aged only 47, leaving £1,391,507 – the equivalent to about one hundred million pounds in today’s money. His widow, the last private owner, returned to India in 1922.
The Council acquired the house in 1924 and today York House is the pivotal centre of the Borough’s administration, as well as the home to many local societies who use it as a venue for their meetings.
© John Moses 2017