Book Reviews

The Hidden History of Wargrave Hall

Author: Terry Grourk

Publisher: Wargrave Local History Society

Date: 2021

Pages; 34

Copies cost £4 plus £1.65 for second class postage. Please contact Peter Delaney at secretary@wargravehistory.org.uk

At the BLHA AGM in March this year I was asked by Peter Hellman of the Wargrave Society if I would review a recent publication from the Wargrave Local History Society, how could I say no?

I have over the years enjoyed many walks along the river Thames and have also taken the odd river cruise too.  One of the things that always fascinates me and in which I take a great amount of interest are the riverside residences. Many with their large lawns sweeping down to the Thames are rather majestic and invite you to wonder about their history and the stories they have to tell.  Wargrave Hall is one of these riverside properties and the account of its history will appeal to a wide readership, not only to the local population but those with a connection to the families that lived there and to social and even political historians.

The author Terry Grourk currently lives in flat 5 and so has a personal connection to the property. We know from his research that the subdivision of the hall began in the years following World War II and the 4 flats became 5 in the early 1960s. However, the story starts back in the 18th century, the 1770s to be precise.

Built for John Mathews, of whom little is known, the house was in the ownership of only two families until 1906, the second being the Fuller Maitlands. Thomas who bought the property in 1849 was a barrister, a Major in the Berkshire Militia and a son of one of the country’s wealthiest families.  Both of these families let the house during their ownership, the position of the property and the potential for the leisure opportunities it afforded being a significant attraction.

Its proximity to the river certainly appealed to the next occupant, who bought the house for the opportunities the house offered for entertaining.  When Edward Goulding bought the Hall in 1906 it ceased to be a family house yet it is from this point on that the history of the house becomes increasingly interesting. Goulding was a conservative MP before becoming Sir Edward in 1915 and Baron Wargrave of Wargrave Hall in 1922.  Grourk tells us that in purchasing the Hall Goulding was providing an unofficial place for politicians to meet and discuss the politics of the day, there being no official country residence for the government of the time.  This fact is clearly evident from the visitors’ book with signatures of significant and influential politicians of the day.  

When Goulding sold the house, it was briefly owned by Mrs Pelton Peel, but it was the next owner Major Francis Fryer who once again brought the house to life.   He was a skilled folk musician and keen on English folk dancing which led him to form the Wargrave Morris Men and to hold dance events at the Hall.   It was Fryer who created the separate apartments at the Hall and following his death in 1961 a limited company was formed to manage the property. 

The booklet is well presented with colour and black and white illustrations and is most definitely worth a read.

Margaret Simons