Join us for the second part of our story of Compton Verney (read part one here).
‘Remember he is old enough to be your father and you cannot be in love with him. It may be all very fine to be Lady Willoughby de Broke but a coronet will not ensure your happiness.’ Mary Elizabeth Lucy, Charlecote Park.
Despite her sister’s warning Margaret (Miggy) was determined to be mistress of Compton Verney. She and Henry Peyto Verney were married in March 1829 and Miggy moved into the house. Compton Verney also became a second home for sister Mary Elizabeth and her children. The house may have inspired the redevelopment of Mary’s own home, Charlecote Park, as while it was loved, it looked tired, and wasn’t in as good condition as Miggy’s.
Henry made only minor alterations to the Compton Verney: these included the introduction of lodges on the estate and the extension of the lower lake around 1815. John Gibson, the architect, had also worked at Charlecote.
Compton Verney continued to be owned by successive lords of the Willoughby de Broke family until 1921, when the nineteenth lord sold the house and land to a soap manufacturer and racehorse owner called Joseph Watson. In 1922, not long before his death, Watson became the peer Lord Manton. His son sold the estate in 1929, but not before removing valuable stained glass from the chapel!
In 1933 Samuel Lamb and his family moved into the house where they remained until war broke out. Lamb was a cotton magnate who spent a great deal of time running his mills in Manchester. His wife Gita, however, lived in the house when not in London. During the 1930s, the Lambs hosted lavish weekend parties, attended by among others, Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop and other pro-German members of British society.
From 1939 Compton Verney was unoccupied until the grounds were used by the army as an experimental station for smoke-screen camouflage (an outstation of the Camouflage School at Stratford-upon-Avon). Sadly, after the army left in 1945 the house was never lived in again and various buildings were demolished or fell into disrepair. Large parts of the estate were sold off. Samuel Lamb, however, did allow guides and scouts to camp there.
‘One abiding memory… is of the Friday night when we had a terrific storm. We all gathered in the bell tent and sat round with cups of hot cocoa and singing campfire songs while the rain lashed down outside. We learned later that this was the night of the Lynmouth floods.’ (Patricia Partridge, August 1952)
In 1958 Compton Verney was sold to an industrialist, Harry Ellard, a local property and night-club owner who liked to collect ruined old buildings. Ellard rarely went in the house, and when he did visit the estate he preferred to stay in his caravan in the park. He did, however, occasionally allow film companies into the grounds. Peter Hall’s film of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968), starring Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Ian Richardson, was shot there.
Ellard eventually became a recluse living in a single room in a house in Solihull that he’d converted into a restaurant complex called the Regency Club, then known locally as Harry’s Folly. Ellard died in 1983 leaving over five million pounds. Following his funeral in January 1984, his ashes were buried on the site of the old chapel by the lake at Compton Verney.
By the 1980s, the house at Compton Verney had become semi-derelict. But the story has a happy ending, because in 1993 the Peter Moores Foundation bought the house and immediate grounds and so the charitable Compton Verney House Trust was born. Today the house is Grade 1 listed and home to an award-winning art gallery.
Charlecote Park Guide Book, National Trust
Mistress of Charlecote: the memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy, Victor Gollancz, 1989