Welcombe

The many lives of an intriguing Grade II Listed building

By Rosemary Ross


Photo:The Welcome - for sale

The Welcome - for sale

J Marlow, February 2020

This page was first published in April 2014, following the announcement of the closure of Harpenden House Hotel, and was modified in October 2014. A report commissioned from Turley Heritage was submitted to St Albans City and District Planning Department in February 2016 (revised June 2016), which adds considerable detail to understanding this complex building - appended as a document below,.

The page has been further revised following the marketing of five apartments in Welcombe House in September 2019. Information about earlier inhabitants has been transferred to a separate page.

The sequence of photographs at the foot of the page (nos. 1-16) starts with scans from the Hodgson family album of the house which is thought to date from c.1900, This is followed by photos showing adaptations during the twentieth century and the renovation of Welcombe House and development its grounds from 2017 to 2019.


The house

Very little is known about the origins and early owners of Welcombe, with its imposing, but oddly asymmetrical early eighteenth century three-storey façade facing south-west across the Common. However it is likely that this wing, with its handsome doorway and ‘broken segmented pediment’ of 1710-20, (Pevsner: Hertfordshire 1953/2018), and imposing central entry hall and staircase, was added to a seventeenth century timber-frame house. Some timber beams and walling, suggesting a hall and cross-wing of an earlier structure were still evident in the kitchen quarters and above them when the building was refurbished in the mid 1970s. However there is little sign of this now, and beams at attic and cellar levels offer conflicting evidence. The massive chimney, with four flues, at the junction of the three wings of the building has not been adequately examined.

At this early period the house probably faced south-east, maybe with a courtyard overlooking the gardens, and a lane running from the Common to the north of the old wing. Possibly it was contemporaneous with the earlier parts of Bennetts (The Royal British Legion), Leyton Road.

Puzzling architectural features

Photo:Late eighteenth century wing added to south end of main frontage

Late eighteenth century wing added to south end of main frontage

Rosemary Ross, June 2011

Photo:Small inner courtyard, looking south over the late C18 extension

Small inner courtyard, looking south over the late C18 extension

Rosemary Ross, June 2011

Later in the eighteenth century a new wing was added on the south-east corner behind the 1720s frontage (see view from the garden, showing the join in the brickwork). Possibly this enclosed the courtyard of which a small section remains. No paintings, sketches or plans have survived showing the house at this stage in its development,


Victorian extensions

Photo:Part of the plan of the Welcombe estate in 1868 - the year that Henry Tylston Hodgson bought it.

Part of the plan of the Welcombe estate in 1868 - the year that Henry Tylston Hodgson bought it.

LHS archives - [indexed in map chest]

The plan of the estate in 1868 when Henry Tylston Hodgson bought Welcombe indicates a building of similar dimensions to the two-storey wing, in ‘cottage’ style at right-angles to the main façade. It appears to have been refurbished possibly in the 1870s/80s. This may initially have been accessed through the loggia and entry lobby, which had been added to the south-west main façade, and with later (and current) access through the massive chimney, thought to be part of the seventeenth century wing.

Photo:C19 Entry porch, veranda, 'cottage style' wing and enlargement of drawing room on the SE corner added to the Georgian frontage, as seen in 1918

C19 Entry porch, veranda, 'cottage style' wing and enlargement of drawing room on the SE corner added to the Georgian frontage, as seen in 1918

LHS archives, cat.no. HC 145

Photo:Welcombe, c.1880 from the south, with conservatory added to C18 wings, and prior to extension to the east.

Welcombe, c.1880 from the south, with conservatory added to C18 wings, and prior to extension to the east.

LHS archives - cat.no. HC 187

Photo:Extract from 1879 OS map from Harpenden Hall to Welcombe estate - indicating the extensions to the front facade

Extract from 1879 OS map from Harpenden Hall to Welcombe estate - indicating the extensions to the front facade

LHS archives - map collection

The entry lobby masked the main doorway during the late nineteenth century, when the drawing room was extended south-westwards on the SE corner of the main façade, piercing the front wall at ground-floor level. An extensive wing on the south-east/north-east corner was also added in the late 1880s. A photo thought to be dated 1890/1900 shows only the C18 wing facing southwards to the formal gardens - see Thurston album 2, 3 and 4 below. 

Restoration of the Eighteenth century frontage - 1920s

Photo:Welcombe, c.1930, showing early C18 frontage, restored after being extended in the C19,  and mid C19 'cottage-style' wing.

Welcombe, c.1930, showing early C18 frontage, restored after being extended in the C19, and mid C19 'cottage-style' wing.

LHS archives - cat.no. B 1.56

Photo:The hall and staircase pre 1918

The hall and staircase pre 1918

LHS archives

Photo:Welcome, Hall & staircase, 1920s.  Note archway to staircase and panelling inserted in 1920s.

Welcome, Hall & staircase, 1920s. Note archway to staircase and panelling inserted in 1920s.

Copy from Welcombe archives - LHS cat.no 4301

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the death of Henry Tylston Hodgson in 1918, the property was sold to Mr and Mrs Leslie Walton, who were granted planning permission to makes alterations (HUDC minutes 15 August 1919. It would be very interesting to see the details of the application).

It appears that the front of the house was restored both externally and internally to match its eighteenth century origins, of which there is no original image.

The hall entrance and dining room for which photos in 1930 survive, show simple panelling and an archway to the staircase, with the removal of the Victorian-style furnishings seen in Frederick Thurston's photos of pre-1918.

The dining room is one feature which we can trace from the Hodgsons, through the Waltons and the Convent to the Hotel:

Photo:The dining room in the time of the Hodgson family

The dining room in the time of the Hodgson family

 
Photo:Welcombe, Dining Room, c.1930. Note panelling inserted in 1920s.

Welcombe, Dining Room, c.1930. Note panelling inserted in 1920s.

Copy from Welcombe archives - LHS cat.no. 4302

Photo:Dominican chapel, c.1960s, in former 1920s dining room

Dominican chapel, c.1960s, in former 1920s dining room

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:30. Harpenden House Hotel - Boardroom, probably in the Dominican chapel/1930 dining room. Later opened up to the front lobby with pillars: see photo taken prior to the auction of contents, March 2014, below.

30. Harpenden House Hotel - Boardroom, probably in the Dominican chapel/1930 dining room. Later opened up to the front lobby with pillars: see photo taken prior to the auction of contents, March 2014, below.

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

 

 

The south-west and south-east façades appear to have been restored to a symmetrical arrangements of windows and roofing, linking the late eighteenth century wing to the late nineteenth-century additions.

The gardens remained largely unchanged and were the scene of many fund-raising events during the 1920s.

Photo:The Tennis courts and garden, viewed from Welcombe, July 1918

The Tennis courts and garden, viewed from Welcombe, July 1918

LHS archives - Photo by Frederick Thurston, LHS cat.no. 9046

Photo:Welcombe, c.1930, showing alterations to C18 bays of the south front and east wing added in c.1900

Welcombe, c.1930, showing alterations to C18 bays of the south front and east wing added in c.1900

LHS archives, Welcombe file

 

 

These features survived through the occupation by the Dominican Convent school from 1930-1964 when the  lawns became playing fields.

The Convent School - St Dominics

Photo:St Dominic's Convent - nun with primary school children outside Welcombe c 1964

St Dominic's Convent - nun with primary school children outside Welcombe c 1964

LHS archives - Harpenden House Hotel collection

 

The Welcombe estate was sold in 1933, at which time The Dominican Sisters, who had been running a school in Harpenden Hall, moved to Welcombe with its ten acres of land. It was renamed the Convent

In 1936 Lourdes Hall was built in the grounds, and dedicated by Canon Longstaff. Extensions for the expanding school, which also had boarders, were built. 

 

 

Photo:View across to Welcombe, cottages and Lourdes Hall, with Silver Cup paddling pool, 1953

View across to Welcombe, cottages and Lourdes Hall, with Silver Cup paddling pool, 1953

LHS archives - Jim Jarvis Collection JJ 023

Photo:Houses on Welcombe estate and Lourdes Hall, 1958

Houses on Welcombe estate and Lourdes Hall, 1958

LHS archives - Jim Jarvis Collection JJ 028

 

By 1955 numbers had grown, so land belonging to the estate along Southdown Road beyond Lourdes Hall was sold for housing (numbers 31-36) to fund the building of the purpose-designed school which was opened as St Dominic's Roman Catholic School in 1964.

Conversion to a hotel - 1970s

Photo:St Dominic's pupils on the main staircase, 1960s

St Dominic's pupils on the main staircase, 1960s

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:Harpenden House Hotel - main staircase, 1970s, which replaced the C18 staircase.

Harpenden House Hotel - main staircase, 1970s, which replaced the C18 staircase.

G Ross, Sept. 2014

 

Moat House Hotels were responsible for many internal alternations, moving walls and doorways on the ground floor, inserting mock Adam-style ionic columns in the eighteenth century ranges, and re-configuring late nineteenth century rooms to form a long “Georgian” dining room with three archways along each side, those on the east side giving access to a new single-storey extension on the north-east side. 

Photo:Moat House Hotel - entry hall, reception, (stairs on the right) 1970s, after insertion of iron ionic Adam-style columns.  Archway to the staircase retained from 1920s.

Moat House Hotel - entry hall, reception, (stairs on the right) 1970s, after insertion of iron ionic Adam-style columns. Archway to the staircase retained from 1920s.

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:Ceiling of 'Georgian' dining room, Moat House Hotel, 1970s, facing west.

Ceiling of 'Georgian' dining room, Moat House Hotel, 1970s, facing west.

Rosemary Ross, June 2011

Photo:Moat House Hotel - County Bedroom, replacing bar (?) on first floor, SE corner, 1970s

Moat House Hotel - County Bedroom, replacing bar (?) on first floor, SE corner, 1970s

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

The allegorical scene decorating the ceiling of the dining room was painted on paper and set within a circular papier-mâché moulded frame. Its installation was almost complete when the WEA group visited in 1971-72. On the upper floors facing the Common, plaster-board false ceilings and partitions were inserted to create bedrooms and passage-ways, concealing any possible remains of C18 features.

The former gardeners' houses fronting Southdown Road and glasshouses behind were demolished to make way for the car park. Suites of rooms spread over the former gardens and tennis courts. Management changed a number of times, from Harpenden Moat House, to Corus to Harpenden House Hotel.

Photo:View from Silver Cup to Hodgson's cottages, Friends Meeting House, The Dene, The Cedars and part of Welcombe, 1973

View from Silver Cup to Hodgson's cottages, Friends Meeting House, The Dene, The Cedars and part of Welcombe, 1973

LHS archives - Jim Jarvis Collection JJ 024

Photo:Harpenden Moat House Hotel, 1970s

Harpenden Moat House Hotel, 1970s

LHS Archives, Jim Jarvis collection - JJ 042

 

Transformed by Fairview Homes

The announcement of the sudden closure of the hotel at the beginning of April 2014 raised serious questions over the future of this Grade II* listed building.

Photo:Welcombe House and surrounding developments

Welcombe House and surrounding developments

R Ross, Februrary 2020

 

The application for the redevelopment of the grounds of Welcombe and refurbishment of Welcombe House by Fairview Homes was controversial with objections from those in neighbouring properties and many others concerned about the impact on views from the Common and the scale and heights of the proposed blocks of flats and houses on the former gardens.

The photos below show how planners allowed increased roof-height for the buildings fronting Southdown Road, compared with copies of photos taken by Jim Jarvis in the 1950s in the Local History Society's archives, which had been loaned to Fairview for display during the consultation processes.  

Photo:View from near the Silver Cup, 1953, with Welcombe house and gardeners' cottages and Lourdes Hall

View from near the Silver Cup, 1953, with Welcombe house and gardeners' cottages and Lourdes Hall

Jim Jarvis - digitised slide.

Photo:The Welcombe development from near the Silver Cup; a car park has replaced the Silver Cup pond.

The Welcombe development from near the Silver Cup; a car park has replaced the Silver Cup pond.

R Ross, February 2020

In the spring of 2019 apartments in the courtyard behind the house, and the mews and cottages were put on the market, followed by the marketing of the five apartments in Welcombe House. The design of these apartments was determined by internal walls and features which had to remain, since we understand that the project was being monitored by St Albans District Planning Department. Members of the Society, who had had access to the house in the 1970s and early 2000s, were able to view the interior of the house in April 2018, by which time the C18 wing had been stripped back to bare brickwork, and some exposed timber-framing on the back wall of this wing, but leaving no trace of plaster or panelled walls. We have not been able to view all the apartments, to see what features from the original building have survived. 

The few photos we were able to take when the house was open to the public in October 2019 are from parts of the house for which there are almost no surviving photos to make comparisons. 

Photo:Front room of the C19 'cottage' wing - in Unit 2, Elizabeth

Front room of the C19 'cottage' wing - in Unit 2, Elizabeth

J Wassell, October 2019

Photo:Unit 2-Elizabeth: transformation of the Hodgson Billiards room, overlooking the gardens at the rear of house

Unit 2-Elizabeth: transformation of the Hodgson Billiards room, overlooking the gardens at the rear of house

J Wassell, October 2019

 

Photo:Looking down to the half-landing and

Looking down to the half-landing and

J Wassell, October 2019

Photo:Stairway to the hotel's rooms overlooking the Common, now blocked

Stairway to the hotel's rooms overlooking the Common, now blocked

J Wassell, October 2019

 

The Herts Advertiser Property supplement of 30 January 2020 describes the transformation of Welcombe House into five two and three bedroomed apartments, keeping "quirky layouts and uneven floors", as stipulated by St Albans District Council planners - to ensure that no period features were lost. So certain (mainly unspecified) features have been boxed in, including the painted ceiling in the former hotel's dining room.

GALLERY OF PHOTOS

The pictures below show features of the interior from photographs by Frederick Thurston during the 1890s for albums owned by members of the Hodgson family. These are numbered 1 -18 (Thurston Album 1-17). Some were reproduced in subsequent sales brochures in 1918.

Numbers 19 complements photos above of the 1920s restoration of house and gardens by the Waltons, the last period when the house was a family home. 

The building was adapted by the Dominican Sisters between 1932 and 1964, where relevant photos can be found on the page about the convent school . 

This is followed a  sequence showing various phases of the hotel from 1970 to 2014 and concludes with photos taken during the period of redevelopment from 2017-2019 (nos.21 to x) and 

Photo:1 Welcombe, west frontage

1 Welcombe, west frontage

LHS archives - Thurston Album 1

Photo:2 Welcombe - SE frontage to garden

2 Welcombe - SE frontage to garden

LHS archives - Thurston album 2, 1890s

Photo:3 Welcombe from the SE corner of the gardens

3 Welcombe from the SE corner of the gardens

LHS archives - Thurston album 3

Photo:4 Welcombe from the south lawn

4 Welcombe from the south lawn

LHS archives - Thurston Album 4

Photo:5 Welcombe - entry hall

5 Welcombe - entry hall

LHS archives - Thurston album 5

Photo:6 Welcombe - staircase from entry hall

6 Welcombe - staircase from entry hall

LHS archives - Thurston Album 6

Photo:7 Welcombe - drawing room on SW corner, from western extension

7 Welcombe - drawing room on SW corner, from western extension

LHS archives - Thurston album 7

Photo:8 Welcombe - study or morning room in south wing

8 Welcombe - study or morning room in south wing

LHS archives - Thurston Album 8A

Photo:9 Welcombe - drawing of Hodgson children and Scottish landscapes in study/morning room

9 Welcombe - drawing of Hodgson children and Scottish landscapes in study/morning room

LSH archives - Thurston Album 8B

Photo:10 Welcombe - drawing room looking over the Common - extension on west front

10 Welcombe - drawing room looking over the Common - extension on west front

LHS archives - Thurston Album 9

Photo:11 Welcombe - dining room

11 Welcombe - dining room

LHS archives - Thurston Album 10

Photo:12 Welcombe - kitchen facing north-west

12 Welcombe - kitchen facing north-west

LHS archives - Thurston Album 11

Photo:13 Welcombe - the billiard room, SW corner

13 Welcombe - the billiard room, SW corner

LHS archives - Thurston Album 12

Photo:14 The two terraces viewed from the SE-facing garden front

14 The two terraces viewed from the SE-facing garden front

LHS archives - Thurston Album 13

Photo:15 Welcombe - gardens, possibly in the SE corner beyond the formal lawns.

15 Welcombe - gardens, possibly in the SE corner beyond the formal lawns.

LHS archives - Thurston Album 14

Photo:16 Welcombe - cattle grazing, probably on fields beyond the gardens, towards Crabtree Lane

16 Welcombe - cattle grazing, probably on fields beyond the gardens, towards Crabtree Lane

LHS archives - Thurston Album 15

Photo:17 Welcombe - cattle grazing. It is not known if there were further buildings beyond the greenhouses near the house

17 Welcombe - cattle grazing. It is not known if there were further buildings beyond the greenhouses near the house

LHS archives - Thurston Album 16

Photo:18 Gardener's and coachman's cottages facing the Common, with glass-houses and Welcombe in the background

18 Gardener's and coachman's cottages facing the Common, with glass-houses and Welcombe in the background

LHS archives - Thurston Album 17

Photo:19. The gardens as maintained by the Waltons in the 1920s, setting for many fetes

19. The gardens as maintained by the Waltons in the 1920s, setting for many fetes

LHS archives - photo for sales catalogue by F Thurston

Photo:20. The lawns become playing fields for the Convent school. Sports Day 1954

20. The lawns become playing fields for the Convent school. Sports Day 1954

LHS archives

Photo:21. St Dominic's Convent, 1950s

21. St Dominic's Convent, 1950s

Welcombe album - LHS archives

Photo:22. View of the Moat House Hotel soon after opening in 1970

22. View of the Moat House Hotel soon after opening in 1970

Welcombe album - LHS archives

Photo:23. Celebrating the opening of Moat House Hotel - staff outside the f

23. Celebrating the opening of Moat House Hotel - staff outside the f

Welcombe album - LHS archives

Photo:24. Reception lobby, 1970

24. Reception lobby, 1970

Welcombe album - LHS archives

Photo:25.  Bedroom - 1970

25. Bedroom - 1970

Welcombe album - LHS archives

Photo:26. Moat House Hotel - Georgian dining room opening into extension, 1970s

26. Moat House Hotel - Georgian dining room opening into extension, 1970s

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:27. Moat House Hotel - Bar - not certain of location

27. Moat House Hotel - Bar - not certain of location

Welcombe album - LHS archives

Photo:28. Moat House Hotel - County Bar on first floor, SE corner, 1970s. Note timber outer frame of fireplace

28. Moat House Hotel - County Bar on first floor, SE corner, 1970s. Note timber outer frame of fireplace

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:29. Corus/Harpenden House Hotel - reception, 1995

29. Corus/Harpenden House Hotel - reception, 1995

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:30. The Georgian Room, set out for a wedding reception

30. The Georgian Room, set out for a wedding reception

Welcombe album - LHS archives

Photo:31. View from top floor of C18 wing overlooking Moat House accommodation blocks

31. View from top floor of C18 wing overlooking Moat House accommodation blocks

R Ross, June 2011

Photo:32. View from top floor of C18 wing overlooking the carpark, on the site of Gardners' cottages

32. View from top floor of C18 wing overlooking the carpark, on the site of Gardners' cottages

R Ross, June 2011

Photo:33. The entry lobby and entrance to former dining/board room

33. The entry lobby and entrance to former dining/board room

G Ross, April 2014

Photo:34. Harpenden House Hotel - SE bedroom being dismantled. Note the resin inner frame of the fireplace

34. Harpenden House Hotel - SE bedroom being dismantled. Note the resin inner frame of the fireplace

G Ross, Sept. 2014

Photo:35. Work starts on the footings for the houses fronting Southdown Road and the couryard behind

35. Work starts on the footings for the houses fronting Southdown Road and the couryard behind

R Ross, September 2017

Photo:36. Start of refurbishment of Welcombe House

36. Start of refurbishment of Welcombe House

R Ross, October 2018

Photo:37. Work begins on Welcombe House

37. Work begins on Welcombe House

R Ross, October 2018

Photo:38. The 'cottages' facing Southdown Road

38. The 'cottages' facing Southdown Road

R Ross, April 2019

Photo:39. Welcombe apartments, rear courtyard

39. Welcombe apartments, rear courtyard

R Ross, April 2019

Photo:40. Welcombe - front courtyard

40. Welcombe - front courtyard

R Ross, April 2019

Photo:41. The completed development

41. The completed development

R Ross, September 2019

Downloads

Turley Heritage report on Welcombe, June 2016
Turley Heritage report on Welcombe, June 2016 (622k)
Commissioned by the developers, Fairview Homes, as the basis for refurbishment of the house, design of 5 Apartments and restoration of historical features in Welcombe House.

This page was added by Rosemary Ross on 25/02/2020.
Comments about this page

Descendents of the Hodgson family have pointed out that the family home was known as 'Welcombe', not 'The Welcombe' - a usage which has more recently crept in. This page has therefore been edited to remove the prefix. The name most probably derives from Welcombe, Warwickshire, birthplace of Mrs Charlotte Hodgson's father.

By Rosemary Ross
On 01/04/2014

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