Sunday, 11 October 2015

A STATELY HOME REMEMBERED (I)

FRAMLAND HOUSE - The Johnsons.


Circa 1966

    Recently re-visiting my rapidly increasing and creaking collection of photographs, I came across the above family image which brought back memories for me from some 50 years ago.  My attention was arrested though, not by the people in the foreground (my wife with her father), but by the presence behind them of the rather grand looking, Georgian styled Framland House, as this old building was always known but is sadly now, just that memory.  This once grand, three-storey residence stood elegantly for over a century with its ornate front door abutting Burton End at the foot of the 'new' railway bridge as it begins its rise on the main road to Oakham; immediately opposite and across the road, stands the old building now known as Cardigan House. The now vanished 'footprint' of Framland today relates pretty well with the entrance to the town Railway Station and the new Borough Council offices.

    Seen on the Ordnance Survey map of 1895, the substantial dwelling is shown to be in three separate sections, all adjoined to a sizeable garden contiguous with a small public path which still leads pedestrians and small vehicles to the joys of the Play Close further on.  I have memories of the decaying and abandoned home, which in its final years provided a haven for young children who seemed to have been free to wander about its spooky innards in a search for the reported 'ghost' which was alleged to haunt the crumbling rooms, peeling wallpaper, cracked paint, broken windows and all. Deterioration rapidly set in as the rain and weather permeated the structure via a roof now robbed of its leaden waterproofing and rotting windows.  The abandoned gardens would later provide valuable space for a few rented allotment plots, eagerly utilised by an older generation of gardeners from which, no doubt, bountiful harvests were produced over the years.
 

Ordnance Survey map circa 1895
    Thus far, I have failed to discover the date of original construction, the origins of its name, or that of the builder, but whilst waiting for someone to perhaps put me wise, I am plumping for a date of around the beginning of the 1870s. Though the characteristics of the house - especially the line of the roof and the style and size of the windows - might suggest a Georgian connection, I cannot accept that it was built as early as the 1820s. From what I have discovered, I currently hazard a guess that the first owner was most likely local resident, Robert Winter Johnson (1833-1884), builder and architect of some repute in his day who was later to be employed as Surveyor for the Local Board, later to become known as Melton Mowbray Borough Council.

Framland House on the left. Circa 1965.

    An attractive building aesthetically and perhaps, pleasing to the eye, it also possessed the somewhat severe lines of an public institution or civic establishment, it might well have stood much longer into the 21st Century in different circumstances but fate was to decree that Framland House would just about reach its hundredth anniversary before the wrecker's ball arrived to create extra width and public safety at an awkward part of the main approach to the busy railway station. I personally remember well a time in the 1970s when slates continued to fall from the roof and bad weather frequently caused chunks of rusting cast-iron guttering to crash down to the pavement to the obvious great danger of passers-by. Of course all this insecurity created problems of illegal trespassing and wanton damage which a boarded-up building always attracts. With the apparent difficulty of tracing a legal owner or someone responsible for its proper maintenance, the old unwanted building faced the eventual ignominy of a compulsory purchase order which accelerated its inevitable demolition.  In 1976, another historic part of the old town vanished from the scene, together with its many secrets and some interesting moments witnessed.  In the course of my research back over those 100 years I have discovered some most interesting facts about some of the people who once lived in the old house.

    On the 15th July 1911, Framland House went up for auction but failed to reach its reserve price of £800 and it is reported that local property agent Shafto H. Sykes later acquired the property by private treaty and placed it on the rental market via Messrs. Shouler and Son, local Auctioneers and Estate Agents. A notice in the Grantham Journal was to offer readers:




"A substantially constructed family residence, with yard, stabling and garden - comprising 2,800 square yards - in Burton Street near the Melton railway station. Contains 3 reception rooms, 11 bedrooms and a kitchen."
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THE RESIDENTS


Robert Winter Johnson.

As I have stated thus far, Robert Johnson is the man whom I believe to have purchased and almost certainly built, the house once know as Framland House in Burton End.  Joseph Winter Johnson (1801- 1851) a surveyor, with his wife Mary, lived in the town where he was apparently respected for his abilities in the building trade together with his skills as a carpenter and builder. Four girls and one boy were born to the family and my first port of call is with that only son. Robert Johnson seems to have learned his father skills, likely as his assistant, but he trained as a young man in the professions of surveying and architecture and as such, in later years he was a much employed in the town, not only with his building work, but as a useful member of the Council, or the Town Board as it was then known.

    In 1864 at the age of 31, first-born Robert married Anne Darley, a Wiltshire girl who was then living and working in Melton with her brother William Darley, a printer in the Beast Market - or as we know it today,  Sherard Street.  His father Joseph having then been dead for some 13 years, Robert had been living with his mother at the family home in Burton End and having taken over his fathers building business, he was by now a substantial employer of some 28 men. So times must have been pretty good in the Johnson household which then employed three servants to assist them. Robert's mother Mary was to die in the December of 1879 and it is more than likely that she would have passed her final hours in the new family home at Framland and it was here too that the next generation of Johnsons would increase their family to a grand total of four boys and two girls.  It was also from here that Robert carried on his business as a surveyor and architect along with his other building interests and as an example of the sort of his work still to be seen today, I would refer to the old War Memorial Hospital on Ankle Hill which in 1874 was totally demolished and rebuilt as Wyndham House, the architecture having been supplied by Johnson. This was also a period when his civil services were possibly over utilised in his important work provided for the local town council, sitting on boards of all descriptions, working in the Magistracy and attending tribunals and the like where his expertise was frequently in demand.

    Whether it was hard work, the long hours and the frequent calls on his expertise or some unrelated illness which brought a sudden end to Robert Johnson's busy and important life is not clear, but in 1884 a short newspaper notice relayed the fact to the people of Melon Mowbray that on December 4th, at the very young age of 52 - just one year more than his father - he had passed away, a tragic moment which was totally unexpected. During the following year after Probate was granted to his widow Anne to the substantial value of more than £15,000 (worth over a million pounds of todays money), Robert's widow would gather her goods, chattels and belongings and together with the whole Johnson family, decamp to pastures new in Hampstead, a very fashionable part of North London, where she purchased the very grand dwelling at No. 11 Belsize Square. Pretty well at a stroke, the Johnson connection was removed not only from the ownership of Framland House, but from the town of Melton Mowbray after an establishment of at least three generations.



11, Belsize Square, NW3 today.
(Google)
    No doubt living the life of an fairly young - and certainly wealthy - annuitant with an impressive pension and ensconced in one of the best of London's leafy suburbs, Annie Johnson did complete the raising of her 6 children, ensuring that her son Henry did not forgo his architectural studies and she was also to outlive her ancestors by reaching the impressive age of 90 before her death in Hampstead in December, 1923. But what of the old family home with its 11 bedrooms, stables and large garden left standing in the grounds of the railway station at Melton Mowbray? It might have been a snip at around £500 when she left and in fact was valued at some £800 when it failed to meet its reserve in 1911. In fact, the property, although never regarded as a noted hunting-box in the town, was occupied occasionally by winter visitors who temporarily utilised the attached stables.

Henry Winter Johnson (1871-1918)   

    As a small and maybe irrelevant post-note to close the story of the Johnson family, I was pleased to discover that Henry Winter Johnson, fourth child of Robert and Anne, was trained like his father and grandfather before him in the classic profession of Surveyor and Architect.  In the Spring of 1897 Henry married a Hampstead girl, Florence Mary Deed, who was to bear him just one child, Hester, and soon after he was to return with his family to the green fields of Leicestershire, the county of his birth where he would set up his family home, office and practice in the nearby market town of Market Harborough, some 20 miles to the south of Melton Mowbray. But I was sad to discover that like his father and grandfather before him, an early demise was to again to hit the family. Henry was to be damned with yet another truncated lifespan when he died in 1918 at the age of just 47 years.  A small article describing his work in Leicestershire appeared in pages 26 -32 of the The Leicestershire Historian, Vol 3, No 3 of 1984/5 which I reproduce below, with thanks to Leicester University:

HENRY WINTER JOHNSON, A MARKET HARBOROUGH ARCHITECT.
Geoffrey K Brandwood

Henry Winter Johnson (1871-1918) was responsible for some of the more
interesting buildings put up in Market Harborough around the turn of the
century. He was the son of the Melton Mowbray architect, Robert Winter
Johnson who had a busy practice in the 1860s and the early 1870s. He had been
responsible for at least eighteen (rather unappealing) church restorations in
the Wreake valley, the Melton cattle market (1870), Kettering cemetery, several
schools (e.g. Asfordby 1859 and Edmondthorpe 1863) and numerous other
works.
Henry was articled to Stock, Page and Stock in London from 1889 to 1894 and in
1895 became an assistant in the office of Gotch and Saunders in Kettering. In
1896 he went into partnership with Herbert George Coales (1863-1944), a
surveyor in Market Harborough, with whom he remained until 1916. Johnson
was the architectural talent in the business and Coales concentrated on the
surveying and civil engineering aspects. This partnership seems to have
worked well though the two men were very different, Johnson aspiring to
county society, Coales more practical.
During the years around 1900 there was much scope for an architect in
Harborough. This was a time of civic expansion and new public buildings were
required as the following list shows. Johnson designed a number of good
buildings, notably the Grammar School and the Gas Offices. They are mostly in
a free style and make effective use of then current architectural ideas. His
fascinations seem to include segmental arches (e g the Post Office doorway),
interestingly treated heavy window surrounds (Gas Offices), bold parapets
(Fire Station), richly varied roof lines (Lubenham Hill residence) and big
limestone chimneys of enterprising section (Little Bowden School).
 
    At around the same time as the young widowed Mrs Johnson moved away from the town with her family, another doctor had arrived in Melton and settled into cramped premises in the High Street to practice his profession for a couple of days a week and also to fit in a little hunting when possible; at just 24 years of age, he was a recently qualified member of the Royal College Of Surgeons and would open up a surgery for a time in Framland House.  The story of this new incomer, a Dr Lionel Powell, who was born in the Channel Island of Jersey and his period of tenure in Melton Mowbray at the large residence in Sherrard Street once known as 'The House' (later to be renamed 'The Elms'), will I'm sure fascinate you as much as it has done me;  also, the equally absorbing story of the autocratic, socialite Soames family who were to make waves in the town right up into the days of the second World War during their tenancy of the now vanished Framland House.

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