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NATIONAL CIVIC DAY
20th June 2015
SOUTHALL MANOR HOUSE
Notes (to be read in conjunction with appendices) :Introduction
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Southall Manor House is the oldest building in Southall and amongst the oldest in the whole
Borough of Ealing. Its principal architectural interest is that it marks the development of a
medieval type (the hall house of the lesser gentry) and subsequent changes in domestic
function and taste over a period of 400 years.
Whilst virtually all of the fabric below the roof plate has been replaced and/or significantly
altered over time, it is still possible to trace the original form of the building and its
constituent parts of; hall, cross wings (higher and lower function), separate kitchen range
and staircases (major and minor).
The medieval appearance of the Manor House is, as a photograph of 1890 indicates, a
reproduction based upon an idealised view, dating from the early part of the 20th century. It
does however draw attention to the original form of the building and its function as the
domestic realm of the lord of the surrounding manor.
Ealing Council Property Services has been privileged to have been able to investigate the
history and structure of the Manor House over a period of time, including the most recent,
comprehensive programme of conservation repairs (2011 – 13). During this time it has
worked with a number of consultants and is indebted to English Heritage, Alan Baxter
Associates and The Heritage Collective for their research and historical advice.
Site & ownership
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Formerly part of the great forest stretching north of the Thames, the land was in the
possession of the Archbishops of Canterbury from the 9thcentury until 1543 when
Archbishop Cranmer exchanged them with Henry VIII for lands in Kent. The manors of
Norwood and Southall were then sold to the sitting tenant, Robert Cheesman who
consequently became the first resident Lord of Southall Manor.
The first owner of the building now recognised as Southall Manor House was Francis
Awsiter, a wealthy City merchant and Alderman, who – although not becoming Lord of the
Manor until he acquired the freehold title in 1602 – purchased the lease of the property
previously occupying the site; a house, dating from 1500, known as “The Wrenns”.
The record of conveyance of 1587 (the date appears in a carved pediment on the west front)
commenced a family connection with the building lasting nearly 250 years and marked a
construction programme that completely reconfigured the house into the form that largely
exists today. The completely new house continued to be called “The Wrenns” until the
historic Manor House at Dorman’s Well was demolished in the late 17th century.
The Awsiter family maintained an association with the current Manor House until 1821,
despite selling the manorial rights to Agatha Child of Osterley Park in 1756. The last Awsiter
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to live in the house, Thomas, died in 1801 but it remained in the family name until acquired
by William Welch the owner/ proprietor of the famous Southall cattle market.
The increasingly anachronistic Elizabethan house within an emerging industrial landscape
(busy canals, the western railway, gravel pits and brickworks were all close by) experienced a
succession of different owners; ale merchant John Chater, William Thomas, a corset
manufacturer and British franchisee of the lock-stitch sewing machine and John Mummery,
a noted dental surgeon.
Southall Council purchased the Manor House and grounds in 1913, opening both to the
public in the 1920’s. Various municipal uses followed until lease was granted to the Southall
Chamber of Commerce from 1970 until the dilapidated building was closed for major repairs
in 2010.
Tracing the original Manor House
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The medieval hall house of the lesser gentry comprised a two-storey central hall with cross
wings at either end designated for ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ functions; the former comprising
private areas and bedrooms for the lord of the manor and his family, the latter service
spaces (buttery, pantry, brewhouse, etc.) with servants quarters above. The hall was a twostorey volume with a central hearth, open to the roof, where the lord of the manor
conducted his business, received visitors and the family and servants assembled to eat and
to celebrate feast days. A kitchen block, square in shape and separated some distance away
from the main house to reduce risk of fire, was located at the ‘low’ end of the plan.
Fashions changed over the course of the sixteenth century with the most obvious
consequence being the addition of an upper floor within the lofty space of the hall and
relocation of the hearth to a fireplace against the wall with a chimney, better able to remove
smoke and ash from the room. The hall now functioned as a formal setting for receiving
guests and for ceremonial purposes. Service spaces were relocated to outbuildings, freeing
up the area at the ‘low’ end of the hall to create a second parlour of equivalent importance
to that at the ‘high’ end.
Elizabethan minor courtyard houses (with which Southall Manor House has many
similarities, despite not possessing a courtyard form) placed the most important rooms on
both floors at the corners of the plan with a view of the court. The kitchen block was thus
transformed into a two-storey rectangular range serving to enclose the court on the low side
of the house with additional accommodation for family and guests at the upper level.
Notwithstanding the many alterations that have taken place over the years, the plans of
Southall Manor House clearly reveal the different components of the evolved medieval hall /
courtyard house embedded within the later work. A notable variation of the established
type is the presence of the kitchen range at an angle adjoining the ‘high’ end of the house.
Alterations
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The earliest adaptation for which evidence still remains is the construction of the ‘link range’
connecting the kitchen range to the main body of the house. Evidence suggests that the link
would have dated from around fifty years after the major building work had begun and
reflected greater confidence in the control of fire risk.
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The plans and elevations of the building show the sequence of alterations, reflecting
changes in purpose as domestic tastes and requirements changed, from the construction of
new brick bays on the east side of the building to re-facing of the west elevation in a mock
Tudor style at some time between 1890 and the Council’s purchase of the building in 1913.
Some alterations for which documentary evidence exists have subsequently been lost.
Principally, the extension of the kitchen range further to the west which was cut back to its
current position as a result of post- WWI road widening works and faced in mock-Tudor
work to match that of the rest of the west elevation.
Internally the rooms that comprised the original Manor House have been altered to reflect
popular taste and to express wealth and status as was the practice of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. Copies of older fireplaces in new stone contrast with more elaborate
Adam-style surrounds in the more important rooms. The panelling in the main entrance
hall, the fireplace and Awsiter family shield also date from this time. Re-stringing of existing
staircases, newel posts and balustrades have taken place over time in sympathy with the
overall ‘feel’ of the house. A white-painted post on the first floor landing of the north cross
wing staircase has so far defied explanation.
Attics
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The attic spaces represent the original Manor House in its most complete state. Tree ring
dating has not revealed a precise date for the felling of the trees that provided the roof
timbers but analysis has shown that they were harvested from the same copse at the same
time.
Many of the oak timbers bear the roman numerals applied by the carpenters working on the
house in 1587 to indicate the construction sequence. This is known as “Brentwood
marking”, named after the Essex town where the method was first observed and runs from
east to west along both roof slopes.. The rafters are numbered in pairs rather than
individually. Markings of hand tools used to shape the beams are also clearly evident.
The link range is constructed largely from elm which suggests it was built some fifty to sixty
years after the main body of the house when supplies of oak were severely limited. The
more sophisticated shaping of the timbers also suggests improvements in carpentry tools
which had developed by the mid seventeenth century.
Standing within the roof space it is possible to perceive the Manor House in its earliest form
of central hall and cross wings at the north and south ends and the presence of the kitchen
range as a separate structure.
Gavin Leonard
Borough Architect
(19/6/15)