1. LOCATION, GEOLOGY AND BUILDING PRACTICALITIES
Liverpool House is situated on the S.E. side of Liverpool Road, Walmer, close to the junction with Walmer Castle Road (to the N.W.) and St. Clare Road (to the W.). Both these roads give access to Upper Walmer, whilst Liverpool Road itself connects Lower Walmer (to the N.) with Kingsdown (to the S.). Before the turnpike road, now the A258, between Dover and Sandwich was constructed around 1800, Liverpool Road provided the main route out of Lower Walmer to the S. From the same junction mentioned above, a bridle-path climbs in a southerly direction (just to the E. of Liverpool Road) to Hawkshill Common. And last but not least, the main entrance to Walmer Castle can be accessed by a footpath running across the Castle Meadow and just a short distance to the N.E. of Liverpool House: this is also the quickest way to the seashore and sea, giving access to yet another means of transport as well as a food source. This somewhat naïve account highlights the fact that, over the centuries, Liverpool House has been well placed to satisfy the several functions described later.
The geology (1) of the surrounding area is of more than passing interest. The house is actually located on the edge of a dry river bed, which runs in a north easterly direction from near Guston (situated on the downs to the N. of Dover) down to Castle Meadow adjacent to Walmer Castle. Hawkshill (see above), like most of the downs in the district, is on Upper Chalk, and there is the familiar sight of a worked-out chalk quarry situated within the Castle Grounds. This landmark is known locally as “The Glen”, the name being attributed to the remarkable Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839), who helped her uncle, the Rt. Hon. William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), improve the Castle gardens (2). The name is also an apt description of the area just to the S. of Liverpool House and one that would be appreciated by a family with Scottish connections, namely the Leith Family. Returning now to the bridle-path that goes down from Hawkshill Common to Liverpool House, this involves a fall of about 60ft. and is accompanied by a change from Upper Chalk to Head Brickearth very near to the site of Liverpool House itself. This geological transition might possibly be exposed between the upper and lower garden terraces at the rear of the property. If this is so, it may have had some influence on the choice of building site, in particular the amount of levelling at the construction stage and the type of foundation needed.
Consideration must also be given to a number of practical factors, such as the impact of local weather conditions (in particular, exposure to the wind and salt air), maximising the use of solar lighting and heating, providing views over the surrounding countryside, and the provision of drainage and a reliable water supply. On the latter point, although there is some ponding of water in and around the Castle Meadow, there is no running water and so well-water would have been needed in the early years. Not surprisingly, therefore, Liverpool House, like Walmer Castle, has its own well, and it would be interesting to find out more about its date, construction and the water quality. A secure supply of timber for fuel and construction purposes would also have been needed, and, ideally, this should have been sourced locally.
Finally, it should be remembered that there is a locally held belief (2) that Castle Meadow was once either covered by the sea or subject to tidal flow, thus leading to the creation of a small creek. Given the height relative to sea-level of Granville Road (a later addition to the local road network) on the northern boundary of Castle Meadow, this seems very likely, certainly over a time-scale of say 2000 years. It is interesting to note that, in 1586, Walmer is recorded as having 5 ships with a total tonnage of 11, whilst Deal had 6 vessels with a tonnage of 16 (3). Even though there appears to be no evidence for the existence of a creek in the life-time of Liverpool House, it is possible that the site was in use at a much earlier date partly because of easy access to the sea.
2. THE FUNCTIONS OF LIVERPOOL HOUSE
2.1 FARMING COUNTRY - GILLOWS FARM (c.1600-1790)
The painting of the three “Castles in the Downs” that hangs in the Dining Room of Walmer Castle (2) gives the first glimpse of what could be the site of Liverpool House. Painted by an unknown artist in about 1735, it shows a yeoman’s farm house with a distinctive Dutch gable-end, out-buildings and a fenced courtyard - typical of farm lay-outs of the period. It is possible to estimate the size of the building and details of this are given in the later Building Review.
Liverpool House must, of course, be viewed as just one of the series of properties that line The Glen. Even in 1790, the population of Walmer was only about 350 people with 70 inhabited houses, most of which were situated either along the Dover Road (as it is known today) or in the vicinity of Walmer Court (and the much older ruined Manor House). Interestingly, the farm associated with Walmer Court lies close to the western boundary of the Manor and Parish of Walmer, and has always dominated farming operations in the area. Occupying some 400 acres at the time the estate was surveyed in 1640 (4), this still leaves another 400 acres to the S.W. and S. of The Glen and Castle: it is the farming in this area that may have led to the development of the Glen “estate”. About the middle of the 18th Century, reference is made to this part of the parish as Gillows Farm, and this accounts for the above title. It is tempting to suggest that Liverpool House might have been used by the Gillows family at some time but evidence for this has not been found.
An introduction to the Leith Family must be made at this point. Their direct involvement with Liverpool House dates back to May 1765 (5), when about 100 acres of land were bought from the devisees in trust and executors of the Will of Morris Underdown. (Morris Underdown (1718-1764) was Mary Leith’s brother-in-law by her first marriage, her second being to the first George Leith (1722-1810) in c.1750). The 1765 Transfer includes “all that messuage or tenement and barns, stables, outhouses, buildings, yards …..belonging now or late in the tenure and occupation of Anthony Bowles…”. From details of the location of this messuage, it is almost certainly the site of Liverpool House.
2.2 “THE BED AND BREAKFAST” or PITT’S COTTAGE (1792-1835)
The change from Gillows Farm to Pitt’s Cottage coincides with the appointments of the Right Honourable William Pitt the Younger (1792), Lord Hawkesbury -
2nd Earl of Liverpool (1806), and the Duke of Wellington (1829) as Lords Warden.
Lord Curzon, himself a Lord Warden, provides a succinct account of the history of Pitt’s Cottage (6) and its conversion to a house fit for a country gentleman and more. Pitt made a number of changes to Walmer Castle to provide quarters for his own use, a set of rooms for the entertainment of visitors, and a number of guest bedrooms (2). However, accommodation at the Castle was limited and so Pitt’s “cottage” (later Liverpool House) was used to lodge some of his many visitors. It is likely that Pitt upgraded the “cottage” about the same time as changes were being made to the Castle (see also the later Building Review), and certainly by 1796, he was in a position to lend the house to his niece, Lady Griselda Stanhope. There is no record of changes made by the Leiths during the period of their ownership between 1765 and 1792.
Before moving on, it is worth mentioning that the Leith Family had purchased the Manor of Walmer in 1784 (7) and so owned all the ground surrounding the actual Castle building and, indeed, most of the Parish of Walmer. Also, the elder son of the first George Leith, George J P Leith (1755-1831) was appointed Captain of Walmer Castle from 1800 to 1831 and served all three of the Lords Warden mentioned above. The Leiths were involved in a number of major building projects in Walmer, notably the first Naval Hospital on the site of what is now Admiralty Mews, the Cavalry and South Barracks, and North Barracks (originally designed as an Army Hospital). Their involvement with Pitt is also illustrated by a receipt from 1798 (8):
“For materials used and Artificer’s Work done in Additions and Alterations to the stables, etc. at Walmer Castle ….£451-2-0½”.
In 1806, the Liverpool Family were delighted with what they found on taking over Walmer Castle and its Grounds (9). Lady Hawkesbury writing to her father-in-law on 11 August 1806 says: “improvements in the house and the grounds are far beyond my expectations”, and, a year later with an update: “the stables are very good but not built by Mr. Pitt but the garden and plantations which are his improvements are indeed invaluable ones - it is altogether a most delightful residence and a truly noble possession”. There is another letter dated 18 October 1807, again to her father-in-law, of even greater interest:
“…you overstated the merits of the castle - I understand you thought we had in all eleven Lits de Maitres - now we have in fact but seven……. what misled you I believe was the cottage where Mr. Pitt lodg’d some of his guests, the furniture of which we were obliged to buy but did not keep”.
This indicates that there were four guest bedrooms in Liverpool House following Pitt’s occupation. Further changes could have been made between 1807 and 1830, by which time the House was back in the possession of George J P Leith.
2.3 “LEITH HALL” - THE LEITH FAMILY HOME (1835-1900)
When George J P Leith died in 1831, the property passed to his great nephew, another George Leith (1814-1852) (10). He would have become tenant-for-life of the Leith Estate, (then known as Walmer Court Estate and held in trust), on reaching the age of 21yrs. in 1835. In 1838, a description and print of Liverpool House appeared in “An Epitome of County History” possibly at the instigation of George. By this time, Liverpool House looked very much as it is today - superficially, a Palladian-style Country House (11). George was certainly in residence when Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their two children, at the time, used Walmer Castle for a seaside holiday in the Autumn of 1842 (12). Earlier that year, George had married Elvira Julia Anne Coane (?-1851) from Ireland, and they later settled at Richview, Clonskeagh, in Dublin. On the death of George in 1852, his private property (which included Liverpool House) and the Leith Estate passed to his younger brother, Frederick Leith (1818-1889) (13). In his Will, George refers to: “..the capital messuage known as Liverpool House together with the stable and gardens thereof……occupying 1acre-0-35 perches”. In this context, the adjective “capital” usually refers to a Manor House, and this is the reason for the use of “Leith Hall” in the above title. Clearly, some of the later generations of the Leith Family saw Liverpool House not only as the Family Home but also their Manor House. Other people, including local residents, would still consider Walmer Court to be the capital messuage, as was the case when the Manor was purchased in 1784 from the Hugessen Family.
Interestingly, Frederick Leith, his second wife Jane Ball Bradley (1846-1924), and their growing family did not take up residence in Liverpool House until about 1872. After Frederick died in 1889, the Leiths continued to use the house until the end of the century, by which time all the children had reached the age of majority.
The property was then rented for another twenty years before being sold on in 1920.
It is not clear who occupied the house between 1842 and 1872. The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) may well have used the building for his guests from time to time, and, around 1860, it was certainly home to the family of Henry Wise Harvey (1798-1861), who married George Leith’s sister, Elizabeth Leith (1815-1886), in 1836. Other members of the “Leith Clan” had an interest in the Glen “estate” around this time, namely James Leith (1792-1868) with what is now The Glen (a former dairy) and the Cannon Family.
1. British Geological Survey
Dover Sheet 290: Solid and Drift Edition
Ordnance Survey, Southampton.
2. Walmer Castle and Gardens
2003: English Heritage, London.
3. Rev. C R S Elvin
The History of Walmer and Walmer Castle
1894: Privately Printed, Canterbury
Records of Walmer
4. Walmer Manor Estate Map of 1640 with superimposed Letter
from George Leith to his elder son, George J P Leith.
Displayed in Walmer Castle, English Heritage.
5. Mrs. Gertrude Nunn’s Personal Papers, now archived at Deal Maritime and Local History Museum: transcript of Transfer of Land from Samuel Simmonds and Thomas Underdown, divisees in trust and administrators of the Will of Morris Underdown, 24/25 May 1765.
6. The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston
The Personal History of Walmer Castle and Its Lords Warden
Ed: Stephen Gwynn
1927: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London.
7. Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone
Knatchbull Manuscripts Catalogue Ref: U951/C95
Letters Nos. 8,13,15,16,17 from Joseph Banks to Edward Knatchbull re. Sale of Walmer Court to Mr. Leith and others in September/ October 1783.
8. PRO 30/8 Pitt Papers (Chatham)
Receipt 562: George Leith Jnr. 13 April 1798
Copy accessible in Jeannie Chapel’s Draft Report File 1984
English Heritage Museum, Dover Castle.
9. British Museum: Liverpool Papers
BM 21672 Vols. 53,55,56 Letters from1806 and 1807
Copies are again filed with the Chapel Draft Report at Dover Castle (see 8. above).
10. PROB 11/1784: Will of George John Piercy Leith dated 7, January 1831.
11. C. Greenwood
The Epitome of County History
Vol. 1 County of Kent
(including “Liverpool House, The Seat of George Leith Esq.” with a coloured lithograph of the house published about 1836)
12. Gregory Holyoake
Wellington at Walmer
1996: Buckland Publications Ltd., Dover
(and Ref.3 above).
13. PROB 11/2160: Will of George Leith dated 11,October 1851, and Codicil dated 18, March 1852.