Pyrgo Park


Location   Romford
Year demolished   c.1940  
Reason   Surplus to local authority requirements  
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Though the last house known as Pyrgo Park was only built in 1851 there had been an estate of that name for many hundreds of years. It also played its part in determining who became the sovereign of England.

Rather than the slightly down-at-heel area that Romford has now become, it was orginally a royal hunting ground based, since Saxon times, around the now lost Havering Palace. Sited near Havering Green it was one several royal palaces used as hunting lodges and Havering had been popular with nearly all the monarchs since Edward the Confessor in the mid-11th century until Charles II in the 17th century. The Palace was near London and, sited on Havering Ridge which rises to 350ft above sea level, offered excellent views towards London and the Thames.

By 1518 Sir Brian Tuke, the king's steward, owned the manor of Pyrgo (or Pergoe as it was then spelt). In the same year he leased the adjoining lands of the medieval Newbury manor - owned by New College, Oxford. A purchase in 1530 extended the park further. In 1536 Sir Brian was appointed the steward of the manor of Havering and in 1537 was granted a licence to empark approximately 300 acres of his estate. Sir Brian continued to live at Prygo until 1541 when the estate was acquired by the King - possibly through the exchange of Pyrgo for the manor of Stapleford Abbots.

Henry VIII completed the emparking and it was during this time that Pyrgo played an important role in determining the royal succession. Henry VIII had seen little of his second daughter, Elizabeth, since her mother's execution in 1536. In 1542, Henry VIII met her when he summoned both of his daughters to dine with him at the ancient house. Henry was impressed by Elizabeth and her sister, Mary, and decided to reinstate their place in the line of royal succession. This was confirmed by Parliament in 1544, restoring the sisters to their place after Edward thus giving England one of her finest monarchs when Elizabeth became queen.

After this brief moment of constitutional glory, Pyrgo was managed by a succession of stewards, including Sir John Gate (1545–53) and Sir Edward Waldegrave (1553–8) during whose tenure Edward VI exchanged the manor of Newbury for lands in Gloucestershire and by 1555 they had been incorporated into the Pyrgo estate.

The house was made fit for Henry VIII in 1543 and in 1594 was described as a 'fair house'. A depiction of the house in c1618 showed a large gabled building and in 1670 was noted as having 30 hearths (for contrast, Havering Palace had 50). However, between c1771 and 1778, the then owner, Lord Archer of Umberslade demolished the chapel and wings of the house - though whether he intended to demolish the whole house we shan't know as the demolition was halted by his death.

The house and estate was owned by a wide variety of owners - in 1559 Elizabeth I granted the house to Lord John Grey whose family inherited it in succession his grandson sold it to Sir Thomas Cheeke. It then passed through the Cheeke family until several generations later a daughter left it to her husband - Lord Archer of Umberslade. Lord Archer left it equally to his four daughters but the trustees sold the estate in 1790 to Edward R Howe. Edward Howe then sold the estate, which was now 460 acres, in 1828 to Michael Field. On his death in 1836 the estate passed to his brother Robert Field.
Probably due to its age, the house had fallen into disrepair and had been largely demolished by c1814 so Robert lived in the farmhouse to the south-east of the Tudor house. In 1851-52, he had the remains of the original house cleared and a new one built on the same site. The house was almost certainly designed by Thomas Allason (1790 - 1852) who had been to Greece in 1814 to study and draw the local architecture. Allason was a noted garden designer who, with Robert Abrahams, had created the spectacular gardens at Alton Towers for the Earls of Shrewsbury. However, some sources claim that the house was built to designs by Anthony Salvin - though it may be that he was brought in to finish the project on the death of Allason.

The house successfully combined elements of both classical architecture and that of Antonio Palladio. As an example of a classical revival villa it came quite late when this style was well established. Though the main house was relatively plain (and small; 5 bays wide by 3 deep) the main front was dominated by a large, unadorned triangular pediment set upon four Ionic columns. To emphasise the depth and grandeur of the pediment the middle three bays were slightly recessed into the main house. The house was built by the famous firm of Cubitt in Suffolk-white bricks with Portland stone for the columns and dressings. The idea of a large pediment combined with a plain house was one that had been developed by Palladio in the 1540s. Also in line with Palladio's style, the main house was strictly symmetrical forming a perfect double cube - though the addition of a service wing which was smaller than the main house - though still Palladian in proportions - suggests that the Palladian ideal had perhaps not created enough space.

Robert Field died in 1856 and the following year the house was sold to Joseph Bray who, in 1862, set about enlarging the house to designs by E. M. Barry. He appears to have replaced the elegant pediment with a tower (possibly a porte-cochere) that certainly rose above the roof-height of the main house. A domed pavilion was also added to the left side of the house and connected with the new additions. The garden front of the house is also shown in later pictures as having a full height central canted bay though it's not known if this was part of the original design or part of Barry's work. In addition to the remodelling of the house, Bray employed Edward Kemp to landscape the grounds in 1863.

The house was offered for sale in 1867 as suitable for 'a gentleman of rank and wealth, or for a merchant prince.' having such luxuries as its own gasworks and a private chapel. The house was finally sold in 1873 to Major-General Albert Fytche who also bought the neighbouring farms thus extending the estate to approximately 600 acres. However, the agricultural depression of the 1880s hit Fytche hard and the house and estate was sold to William E. Gibb in 1887 by order of the mortgagees. Gibb subsequently sold it to Alice Mary, the wealthy widow Lord O'Hagan. Lady O'Hagan added a picture gallery in 1905 and also extended the estate further, bringing it to 824 acres by 1919. On her death in 1921 her son, Maurice Towneley-O'Hagan, Lord O'Hagan, started selling off the estate in parcels. Two farms totalling 379 acres were sold in 1922 and the house with 125 acres sold in 1925 to one Herbert J. Mitchell who subsequently sold it in 1935 to a group of developers.

The end of the house was apparent but it actually came at the hands of Essex county council who had stepped in and bought the property in 1937 from the developers as part of the Metropolitan Green Belt scheme to protect the outskirts of London from over-development. The house was demolished in either 1938 or 1940 leaving just the late 19th century stable-block, north and south lodges and the gardens.