Ealing Park - at the heart of Little Ealing’s history

If you have walked past the gates across from the Plough pub at the bottom of Little Ealing Lane and glanced at the house just visible behind the trees you might have wondered about its history. You may know it was a school, The King Fahad Academy not so long ago. Now the house looks run down and the grounds overgrown. The property still is owned by the government of Saudi Arabia but now Ealing Council may be considering compulsorily purchasing it. It would be a matter of concern if the house was allowed to fall into serious disrepair, not only because it is a fine example of an eighteenth century mansion and a grade two listed building, but because it is central to the history of Little Ealing.

Ealing Park House, 1960

We know that a house, then called Place House, was built on the site in 1693 for John Loving. He was Teller to the Exchequer of Charles the Second, perhaps the equivalent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer today. There is a suggestion, or perhaps a legend, that an older house stood on the site which was sequestered, or seized, during the Civil War because it was recusant property. That is, it belonged to Catholics. In any event, John Loving obtained the land after the Restoration. And it was a substantial area of land bounded by what are now Windmill Road, Little Ealing Lane, South Ealing Road and probably Carlyle Road to the south. Ealing Park Tavern stands there today, retaining the later name of the property.

The house went through a succession of owners, some notable and some rather more notorious. In 1729 the Loving family sold the house to Sir Richard Ellis who died in 1742. His widow, Sarah, married Sir Francis Dashwood, a founder member of the Hell Fire Club. That name was only used later; Dashwood founded the ironically named Knights of St Francis in 1746. Meetings were held at his family seat at West Wycombe and at Medmenham Abbey. A group of aristocratic gentlemen known for their reckless and dangerous exploits met to engage in profane rituals which involved debauchery and a lot of eating and drinking. Dashwood’s marriage does not seem to have had much effect on his conduct. It was described at the time as 'far exceeding in licentiousness of conduct any model exhibited since Charles the Second'.

On a rather different note, from 1760 to 1765 the house was owned by the Earl of Warwick. He entertained eminent friends there, including the poet Alexander Pope.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century Place House was substantially rebuilt and named Ealing Park. It is essentially the house which still stands today. In 1838 the property was bought by a society surgeon, William Lawrence, and his wife Louisa. William later was made a baronet.

Louisa was one of the leading gardeners of her day. She created at Ealing Park a renowned and much visited garden. But she came from quite humble origins. Born in Aylesbury her father was a haberdasher. Louisa married William Lawrence in 1828 and they settled at Drayton Green. Here Louisa started with a two acre garden but clearly needed more scope to express herself.

The couple bought Ealing Park for £9,000. Soon people were flocking to see her thousands of flowers and plants, and lawns and vistas.

Among the visitors was Queen Victoria. She visited the house and grounds on 3 July 1845 and wrote about it in her diary. The Queen wrote

Terribly hot & thundery. We felt it very oppressive when we walked in the garden. Went, as usual to Uncle & Louise. — After our luncheon, we set off with Uncle, Louise, our 2 Ladies & Gentlemen, for Ealing Park, 7 miles from London, belonging to Mr Lawrence. Only he, his wife, & children were there.

He is an eminent Surgeon, & both he & his wife were very civil. The place is extremely pretty & full of beautiful plants. The flower garden & hot houses are in excellent order & full of rarities. Near the house, there are innumerable birds, parrots, &c. The house itself, is very prettily furnished. We were given beautiful strawberries & ice to eat. Come home at 6.

The Queen’s visit must have raised Louisa’s profile considerably. She was reputed to be highly competitive, constantly winning prizes, in competition with other notable gardeners of the day, including Paxton at Chatsworth. Louisa succeeded in being the first to produce a flower from a beautiful tree from Burma called the Amherstia Nobilis. Horticulturalists had been trying to do this for eight years.

The Lawrences’ heir sold the estate at auction in 1881. Little Ealing History Group has acquired the sale documents which describe the house and grounds in detail. The auction took place on 17 May 1881 near the Bank of England. The house, described as ‘a noble mansion’, contained a double drawing room 54 feet by 20 feet; a library, a smoking room and a fine dining room with a beautifully carved mantelpiece by Grinling Gibbons. On the garden side was a terrace protected by a stonework veranda and ionic columns.

Outbuildings included an octagonal dairy, stables, several cottages and numerous glasshouses. The house was surrounded by pleasure grounds with lawns, and the plans show a large number of trees throughout the site. Two lakes, with a boat house, were situated roughly where Radbourne Avenue and Junction Road are now. These probably would have been fed by the (still existing) Radbourne stream.

Lake in Ealing Park, 1880

Lake in Ealing Park, 1880

One of the attractions highlighted by the agents was the proximity of the proposed Hounslow and Metropolitan Railway with its planned station in Ealing Lane (now South Ealing Road). Perhaps there is a parallel with Crossrail now?

On the site were several other houses. Gumley House was a detached villa approached by a carriage drive and with a large walled garden. ‘The Hollies’ is described as an old fashioned residence which was being used as a school. There were two smaller houses: Gumley Lodge and Laurel Cottage. The names of all these properties live on in the name of local roads although the houses themselves did not survive.

The estate was broken up. It was bought by the British Land Company which sold it off in lots for residential development. Many of us live now in the houses that were built on the land. Fortunately, Ealing Park House itself survived. It became a convent for an order of nuns, Les Dames de Nazareth. They established a girls’ school, and in one way or another the house has been used mostly for educational purposes since. It may be again. But let’s hope that whatever its future use the house is and restored and cared for, reflecting the important historic building it is.