Mount Felix


Location   Walton-on-Thames
Year demolished   1966/67  
Reason   Damage from requisitioning and fire  
See all images: Gallery

It's not known who built the first house at Mount Felix. In fact, it was more a large house with a large garden than a true estate until bought by Samuel Dicker (b. ? - d. 1760), a very successful businessman in Jamaica who owned a large plantation giving him considerable wealth. He was active in local politics and joined the island's council in February 1738 on the recommendation of Edward Trelawney, Governor of Jamaica. He held this post until in August 1747 when he informed the council that he was stepping down to remain in England, which he had made his home the previous year and during which he had bought the house at Mount Felix.

Seeking an easier way to London from his new home south of the river and, no doubt, with an eye to a profit, Dicker sought, during the 1746-47 parliamentary session, an Act granting him the rights to erect a bridge and collect tolls. At that time the only crossing was via ferryboats which shuttled goods, livestock and people and which during the frequent flooding was particularly treacherous. The Act successfully passed despite objections from the ferryboatmen (who feared loss of business), bargees (who feared that the river would be made impassable), and even the locals (who feared 'undersirable sorts' from the north side of the Thames). Dicker hoped that someone else would pay for construction and even offered £5,000 (approx £750k - 2007 value) to any man who would do so but, when that failed, he paid for the work himself, and in doing so gaining the full benefit of the right to collect tolls.

Dicker chose the architect William Etheridge (b. 1709 - d. 1776) and it was built by Mr White of Weybridge between 1748-50. Etheridge designed a remarkable wooden bridge which used mathematical principles to create a lattice work - a structure which was much admired for its 'strength, contrivance and remarkable great arch'. Described as 'the most beautiful wooden arch in the world' it was so renowned that Caneletto journeyed to Walton to paint it in 1754 ('Old Walton Bridge over the Thames' - held at the Dulwich Picture Gallery). Dicker's house can be seen nestled in the trees at the top of the hill in the left of the painting - the location of the bridge no doubt chosen to provide a suitable view from Dicker's home at Mount Felix and from the grounds which Dicker had extended by buying neighbouring parcels of land to create a small estate. Dicker claimed the bridge would last at least 200 years but it was found to be severely decayed during a survey in 1778 and was replaced by a brick version in 1783.

Dicker died in 1760 and his estates and interests in Walton were sold off. It's not known to whom the house was sold to but it was owned by the Earls of Tankerville (of the third creation) by 1771 when Charles Bennett, the fourth Earl (b. 1743 - d. 1822), settled there with his new wife. The Earls of Tankerville had made their wealth during the career of the first Earl (of the second creation) who was First Lord of the Treasury and Lord Privy Seal. The Tankerville wealth came mainly from large land holdings in the north east of England in the Northumberland region. The agricultural wealth was also supplemented by income from lead mining which started in the Tankerville area in the 1830s. This mining had struck a rich seam which, by 1870, was still described by the mine manager as "...unquestionably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, lead producing lodes in Shropshire" and for many years provided a healthy income.

This wealth meant that in 1836, the fifth Earl of Tankerville (b. 1776- d. 1859) decided to rebuilt his southern seat (the family's northern seat was Chillingham Castle). The Earl commissioned Sir Charles Barry (b. 1795 - d. 1860) demolish the current house and to build a new mansion on the site of the old one. Barry had won the competition to design the new Palace of Westminster that same year so to sucessfully secure his services was a measure of the wealth and status of the Earl.

The new house was an important building within Barry's body of work. A large Italianate villa with a large, square, two-storey porte cochere entrance, it was gave a taste for his designs which would later be implemented on a grander scale for Queen Victoria's holiday home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. Mount Felix also benefited greatly from the fine gardens which had been the pleasure and passion of the wife of the fourth Earl.

Despite their wealth the Tankervilles were not to live at Mount Felix for long, selling the house and estate in 1852. After a number of owners it was bought by Ann Ingram in 1868. The widow of Herbert Ingram, the wealthy creator of the hugely successful 'Illustrated London News', Ann selected Mount Felix as a suitable home for bringing up her five daughters and three boys. All of Herbert's extensive business and property interests had been left simply and exclusively to Ann, leaving her in a very powerful position. The family felt comfortable at Mount Felix and clearly identified with it as evinced by the two stone gate pillars bearing the Ingram family coat of arms erected in 1870 when a new entrance drive to the house was built. Ann Ingram had chosen well for she lived at Mount Felix until her death in 1896. The house was put up for sale again in 1898 and sold.

The house was bought John Mason Cook, of the family who owned the Thomas Cook travel company, who lived there until his death in 1905. The house was then bought by John Compton who lived there with his wife, Kathleen Edith Compton and their four children. However, their residence was relatively short-lived as during World War I, the family generously offered the house in 1915 for use as a hospital. The 150-bed facility mainly treated Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) servicemen, many seriously wounded in the Gallipoli campaign and during the fighting in France. By the time the hospital closed in March 1920, over 27,000 patients had been treated there and it had helped forge a close association between the town and New Zealand which endures today.

The house was returned to the Comptons after the war but was in a poor condition and effectively uninhabitable. Unfortunately, the Compton family's financial situation was no longer the same and they were not able to restore and return to the house. The house was then sold to a syndicate who hoped to turn the house into a country club but it was eventually converted into flats and fully occupied. During WWII, the ballroom was pressed into service including as a temporary morturary to enable identification of the bodies of those killed during an attack on the Vickers factory in 1940. After the war, the ballroom was used for a small business and later, for various shows. The end for the house came in 1966 when a fire severely damaged the house and it was demolished during 1966/67.

So what remains today? The 1870 gate pillars still stand in the same place (near the junction of Bridge Street and Oatlands Drive just before Walton bridge) but of the house itself nothing remains having been built over by a large housing development. The stables were converted into six houses in 1929, and each still survives retaining many original features. The Clock House and the Coach House have also been put to good use and have been restored by a local company for use as offices.