With its many interesting associations with the Melton Hunt,‘The Elms’ - formerly known as ‘The House’ and which once stood on the South side of Sherrard street - was really more of mansion proportions and for many years was one the most important buildings in the market town. From its very earliest times it became the property of an outsider, being occupied by two Lambton brothers, William Henry and Ralph John, whose father, John Lambton, had been an early disciple of Hugo Meynell and with him, one of the original motivators of the nascent hunting phenomenon which was rapidly developing in this area. The Lambton Estates in Durham, Northumberland with their rich coalfields had made this family extremely wealthy and these two sons had inherited well from their father’s efforts. As a keen sportsman, the large house was a magnet for the wealthy and high-society figures of the sporting world. Its rear entrance of grand stone pillars faced north onto Sherrard street as if turning its back on the passing traffic of the day, but the attractive front aspect which faced into the sun of the south, overlooked a great blend of immaculate lawns, high flowing water fountains, carefully tended and colourful flower gardens, all of which extended to where Mill Street lies today.
It was in 1793 that timber merchant Richard Norman, who was then also the estate agent to the fourth Duke of Belvoir, acquired ownership of ‘The House’ and within this period of their tenure they renamed it as ‘Norman House’. After the death of his first wife, Richard Norman married a second time into a much higher echelon of society than his own when through his close business connections with the Duke, he was to marry his eldest daughter, Lady Elizabeth Isabella Manners. The word was apparently quickly and widely spread that her mother, the Duchess, was not at all enamoured of this “mixed’ union of her daughter and a ‘working man’. Desirous of keeping tags on the couple, Lady Elizabeth is said to have purchased a house in Sherrard Street known as ‘The Poplars’ - which still stands today, fronted by a butcher’s shop - from where she is said to have paid close and personal attention to her offspring. Today, the story is still told locally of the quite regular visits of the Dowager-Duchess to her daughter’s house, just 20 metres distant across the main road, when she would take a hansom cab to turn right from her drive into Sherrard Street, then to travel some 20 metres along the road to where the Corn Cross once stood in the centre of the highway. On Circumnavigating the Cross she would retrace her route to park at the rear entrance of her daughters residence where her liveried entourage would ensure that she was safely embussed and properly ensconced with Elizabeth for her maternal visit. Richard Norman died in 1847 and Elizabeth lived on for a further six years.
After the passing of the Norman family,‘The House’ was sold on to Mr C H Frewen of Cold Overton Hall, Nr to Langham and at this time the Reverend C A Holmes maintained a large boarding school on the premises for at least six years after which time it was let to various visiting members of the hunt who arrived each year for the winter season of hunting the fox. It next became the official residence of Mr Thomas Frewen and family, who was at that time patron of the Melton Living. Once more, early in the 1870’s the property was sold on a more permanent basis to Lieutenant Colonel William Thomas Markham who settled in seriously and over time renovated and upgraded the ageing building in order to suit his very large family. Known for his great love of horses and hunting, he erected brand new stables for his large string of top-grade hunters, which were professed to be better fitted out than the average hotel of the time. In 1877, their second daughter, Miss Cecile, married Mr Cecil Samuda in a very grand high-society ceremony at Melton Church on the 12th December. The event attracted many hundreds of people including members of the local Hunts who all attended in scarlet. As part of the nuptials a meet of the Belvoir hunt took place in the paddock adjoining the house at which the Duke of Rutland was present. The Colonel’s eldest daughter married the Earl of Annesley from this house and before long, in the 1890’s, his two remaining daughters were married to Mr Archibald Smith and the late Hon. Gerald Walsh respectively. It was during the time that the Markhams were resident, that the name of the house was changed once again; this time to become known as ‘The Elms’. The beneficent and widely respected and loved Mrs Markham died at ‘The Elms’ on July 20th 1880 after a brief illness, her loss being keenly felt in the town and especially by the local poor people to whom she had directed many years of genuine altruistic attention and assistance at times of need. A permanent memorial consisting of three stained-glass windows was placed to her memory in the chancel of St Mary’s church at a cost of £210 - a grand amount - which was all raised by public subscription. After her death ‘The Elms’ stood virtually unused for long periods of time apart from being rented out in the season as a hunting lodge to various wealthy members of the hunting fraternity.
And Finally, the Powells’.
Following the deaths of both Colonel Markham and his eldest son and heir, the house was sold once more to local surgeon Colonel Lionel L Powell who had previously spent his bachelor days in and practised medicine at, Framland House in Burton End. This move followed his marriage to Jessie Kate, the only daughter of local brewer, William Adcock, then resident at North Lodge in Bentley Street. Their only child, Philip Lionel William Powell, born at ‘The Elms’ in 1882, went on to serve a commendable military career, even though ill-health would truncate his promising promotion path early. Spending more time in London, he married in 1904, Maud Mary Wells-Dymoke of Grebby Hall, Lincolnshire, daughter and eventual heir of Edward Lionel Wells-Dymoke. Their only son, Anthony Powell was born in 1905 and spent only his first five or six years in Melton Mowbray at The Elms before the family moved permanently to Wandsworth in London. Later in his life Anthony was to achieve literary fame as a celebrated novelist of world-wide repute in the 1950s, with the great success of his collection, Dance to the Music of Time.
Depression and Demolition
The 1930’s, not only in Britain, but across Europe as a whole, came to be remembered as a significant period of increasing and debilitating depression, with the loss of productivity and industry creating almost a decade of austerity from which Melton Mowbray was not to be fully spared. A steady dwindling of wealthy visitors in the hunting seasons and a related lack of well paid work locally, served to seriously affect the day-to-day life of the town. People today lament the passing demolition and general destruction or neglect of many of remaining historic buildings in the town, a trend which they feel is unnecessary and ever the fault of the local Councils, but it is a fact that this situation was occurring almost a century ago, when, like today, the Council are deemed responsible but pretty well hands-tied as to what they could do usefully to save the situation. In fact, as history shows us, it would again take another World War and two or more decades to return to some form of normality.
Following the passing of the Powell family in 1930, their lovely old house was to stand sadly alone, unoccupied, seemingly unwanted and abandoned to the vagaries of the weather and passing vandalism. With potential owners shy to buy or even to lease such properties in the prevailing depression. Following this trend, the same dispiriting circumstances were to be true of other large houses in the town such as ‘North Lodge’ at the top of Bentley street, once owned by Mr Adcock of the nearby brewery or another of the prime residences of the day, the long-established hunting lodge known as ‘The Limes’ in Sherrard Street, which was owned by Mr Adcock’s former business partner James Pacey. The increasingly punishing cost of general upkeep and the impracticality of perhaps, potential buyers ‘waiting for better times’, foresaw the inevitable demolition of ‘The Elms’ in 1936. The site would stand abandoned and unkempt for at least two decades throughout the years of the second World War, until in 1953 when the General Post Office were somehow granted permission for the erection of a new telephone exchange (a hideous 1960’s blimp which today is rapidly approaching its own demise) which at least attempted to cover the eyesore, but added little to the character or ambience of the ancient town. The building was later fronted by four equally ugly modern shops which were to face Sherrard Street.