Welcombe

Behind the façade of Harpenden House Hotel, Southdown Road

By Rosemary Ross

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, which adds considerable detail to understanding this complex building. A copy will be appended below as a document. ed September 2017.

Photo:Welcombe, c.1930, showing early C18 frontage and mid C19 'cottage-style' wing.

Welcombe, c.1930, showing early C18 frontage and mid C19 'cottage-style' wing.

LHS archives - cat.no. B 1.56

Very little is known about the origins and early owners of Welcombe, now Harpenden House Hotel, 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), 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 crosswing of an earlier structure were still evident in the kitchen quarters when the building was refurbished in the mid 1970s. However there is little evidence of this now, and beams at attic and cellar levels offer conflicting evidence. The massive chimney at the junction of the three wings of the building has not been adequately examined. At this early period the house probably faced south, maybe with a courtyard overlooking the gardens, and a lane running from the common behind 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. 


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, pre.1900, possibly 1880/90s, from the south, with conservatory added to C18 wings, and prior to extension to the east.

Welcombe, pre.1900, possibly 1880/90s, from the south, with conservatory added to C18 wings, and prior to extension to the east.

LHS archives - cat.no. HC 187

 

During the nineteenth century a two-storey wing, in ‘cottage’ style, was built at right-angles to the main façade, presumably added by Henry Tylston Hodgson. possibly in the 1870s/80s. This was possibly initially accessed through the loggia and entry lobby, which had been added to the south-west main facade, and with later (and current) access through the massive chimney, thought to be part of the seventeenth century wing. 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 facade, piercing the front wall at ground-floor level. An extensive wing on the north-east corner was also added, possibly as late as the early 1900s, since a photo thought to be dated 1890/1900 shows only the C18 wing facing southwards to the formal gardens. 

Photo:Welcombe, from the garden, showing a new wing on the SE corner. added 1890-1900. Ivy has spread! July 1918

Welcombe, from the garden, showing a new wing on the SE corner. added 1890-1900. Ivy has spread! July 1918

LHS archives, copy of photo by Frederick Thurston - LHS cat.no. 4142

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

 

Following the sale of Welcombe in 1918/19, it appears that the frontage of the house was restored both externally and internally to match its eighteenth century origins. 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 1918. The south and 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. 

These features survived through the occupation by the Dominican Covent from 1930-1964.

Moat House Hotels were responsible for many internal alternations, moving walls and doorways on the ground floor, inserting mock ionic columns in Adam-style in the eighteenth century ranges, and for re-configuring late nineteenth century rooms as a long “Georgian” dining room with three archways along each side, those on the east side giving access to a new single-storey extension. The allegorical scene decorating the ceiling of the dining room is 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, plaster-board false ceilings and partitions were inserted to create bedrooms and passage-ways.

Some of the occupants

So far we have found very few references to owners, but in the late eighteenth century Mrs Elizabeth Mercier was running a boarding school for girls, possibly for a while in this house and she was still listed in the 1826 Directory as having a Ladies’ ‘Academy’. This closed around 1840, but probably was then in premises on Church Green. The 1843 tithe award schedule indicates that the mansion was empty at that time, having lately been occupied by Mr Fogg and that the great meadow and the gravel pit fields alongside the Common (Wheathampstead, later Southdown Road) belonged to Richard Oakley. Land which subsequently became the upper gardens were still part of Topstreet Farm owned by Charles Packe and occupied by Joshua Jennings. Richard Oakley also owned the land and cottages described in the Indenture of 1868, which we believe to be on the site later redeveloped by Henry Tylston Hodgson as a row of cottages between the Institute (Friends Meeting House) and Harpenden Hall.

The Hodgson Family

Photo:Henry Tylston Hodgson, JP

Henry Tylston Hodgson, JP

LHS archives - LHS cat.no. 000478, EM 5/8

By the 1871 Census, Welcombe had become the family home of Henry Tylston Hodgson (1843-1918), and his wife Charlotte, with their three eldest children, Aubrey aged 4, Eustace aged 1 and three-month old Gerald. They employed a Housekeeper, an Upper housemaid, a Cook, a Nurse, an Under nurse, a Kitchen maid and a Footman. Henry was described as a ‘railway director’ having been elected as a Director of the Midland Railway, with its headquarters in Derby and offices in St Pancras station. In 1904 he became deputy chairman. Later censuses show the family growing, with sons Charles (known as Victor), twins Oswald and Hubert, a daughter, Mabel and the youngest son Nigel (Linnhie).

Photo:The Hodgson family, c.1890

The Hodgson family, c.1890

LHS archives - LHS cat.co. 013210, EM 7/4 & EM 34/1

Henry and his wife became active in Harpenden cultural life, particularly in the provision of land for, and building of The Institute (Harpenden Lecture Institution - now Friends Meeting House) in 1887, and of Hodgson's cottages alongside to the north. He served as a JP from 1874, as Harpenden's first County Councillor from 1889 and was appointed High Sherrif of Hertfordshire in 1907. He served on the management committee of the British School (now Park Hall) and later of the School Board responsible for building the Victoria Road schools in 1897. He chaired the elaborate celebrations for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887, for which James Wright Salisbury of Limbrick Hall was Secretary and Treasurer. In 1908 he built Rosemary (28 Milton Road) for his wife, but she died the following year and the house remained empty. When the First World War broke out Mr Hodgson made 'Rosemary' available to serve as a military hospital, which it did at various periods during the war. In 1914 he erected at his own expense the Rifle range on land at the southern end of the Welcombe gardens - later to become the hut for the 3rd Scout troup.

After Henry Tylston Hodgson's death in 1918, the house passed to new owners, the Waltons, described by Theodora Wilson as "rich and generous people who are this year [1920] doing their best to popularise their wealth by various fetes for charities and politics in the Welcombe grounds. There was a fete for Dr Barnardo's Homes in June, and another for the Unionist cause in July and there is to be yet another for the resuscitated Horticultural Show in August." (Theodora's Journals, p.173). The Waltons, who had been associated with Vauxhall motors of Luton, left Harpenden in 1931. It would appear that land alongside Southdown Road below the rifle range was sold for housing as numbers 36, 37 and 38 were built during the 1930s.

Gerald Hodgson continued his father's interest in public works for the benefit of Harpenden. He and his wife lived first at Blantyre in Arden Grove and then at Bennetts in Leyton Road (now Royal British Legion). Theodora Wilson thanked Mr Hodgson for the planting of Scotch pines and larches around the newly refurbished 'run-off' ponds in Southdown Road in 1929. His brother Victor Hodgson, who moved to Scotland and founded the West Highland Museum, had collected many artefacts and paintings which he lodged with Harpenden Urban District Council 'for a future museum for Harpenden'.

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. 

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.

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


Transformation to a hotel - with an uncertain future

By the mid 1970s Welcombe was transformed into a hotel. Houses fronting Southdown Road were demolished to make way for the car park. Suites of rooms spread over the former gardens and tennis courts. Management has 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


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

The pictures below show features of the interior from photographs by Frederick Thurston in 1918 and 1930, followed by some recent photos, showing various phases of the hotel from 1970 to 2014.

Photo:Welcombe, kitchen c.1918

Welcombe, kitchen c.1918

LHS archives - copy of a Thurston photo

Photo:13. Hall and staircase, Welcombe, 1918.  Note: no archway. Window with stained glass onto inner courtyard.

13. Hall and staircase, Welcombe, 1918. Note: no archway. Window with stained glass onto inner courtyard.

LHS archives, copy of F Thurston photo, LHS cat.no. 004143

Photo:The breakfast or dining room, Welcombe, 1918 - note: no panelling

The breakfast or dining room, Welcombe, 1918 - note: no panelling

LHS archives, copy of photo by Frederick Thurston - LHS cat.no. 4145

Photo:The Music Room or Drawing Room, looking towards the Common, 1918

The Music Room or Drawing Room, looking towards the Common, 1918

Copy of Frederick Thurston photo, LHS cat. no. 004147

Photo:Welcombe, Drawing Room, 1918 - with window towards the garden on the south side

Welcombe, Drawing Room, 1918 - with window towards the garden on the south side

Copy of Frederick Thurston photo, LHS cat. no. 004144

Photo:Welcombe, the Study? 1918

Welcombe, the Study? 1918

Copy of Frederick Thurston photo, LHS cat. no. 004146

Photo:Welcome, Billiard Room, 1918 - in the SE extension?

Welcome, Billiard Room, 1918 - in the SE extension?

Copy of Frederick Thurston photo, LHS cat. no. 004148

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

Photo:The gardens in the 1930s

The gardens in the 1930s

LHS archives, 1930s sales brochure for Welcombe

Photo:21. Welcome, Hall & staircase, c.1930.  Note archway to staircase and panelling inserted in 1920s.

21. Welcome, Hall & staircase, c.1930. Note archway to staircase and panelling inserted in 1920s.

Copy from Welcombe archives - LHS cat.no 4301

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 dining room

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

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:24. St Dominic's pupils on the main staircase, 1960s

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

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:St Dominics school, classroom in former billiards room, 1960s

St Dominics school, classroom in former billiards room, 1960s

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo:St Dominics, classroom on first floor of C18 wing

St Dominics, classroom on first floor of C18 wing

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

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

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

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 Bar on first floor, SE corner, 1970s. Note timber outer frame of fireplace

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

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

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

Photo:Bedroom with C19 features on the SE corner of the Harpenden House Hotel, undergoing renovation in 2011

Bedroom with C19 features on the SE corner of the Harpenden House Hotel, undergoing renovation in 2011

Rosemary Ross, June 2011

Photo:Harpenden House Hotel - SE bedroom, 2014. Resin inner frame of fireplace

Harpenden House Hotel - SE bedroom, 2014. Resin inner frame of fireplace

G Ross, Sept. 2014

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:Corus/Harpenden House Hotel - reception, 1995

Corus/Harpenden House Hotel - reception, 1995

LHS archives - Welcombe-HHH album

Photo: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.

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

Photo:Harpenden House Hotel - former chapel/dining room, in preparation for auction

Harpenden House Hotel - former chapel/dining room, in preparation for auction

G.Ross, 27 March 2014

Photo:Harpenden House Hotel - main staircase, 1970s, which replaced the C18 staircase seen in photos 13, 21 and 24 above

Harpenden House Hotel - main staircase, 1970s, which replaced the C18 staircase seen in photos 13, 21 and 24 above

G Ross, Sept. 2014

This page was added by Rosemary Ross on 13/03/2014.
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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