Breakspear House and The Dovecote
A 17C manor house which has undergone a detailed restoration and conversion to create nine apartments. Set in 9 acres of ancient woodland.
Breakspear Road North, Harefield HA6 1BN
Sat 10am-1pm. Last entry 12.30pm.
- Partial disabled
BREAKSPEAR HOUSE AND THE DOVECOTE 1300s Old records for the manor of Harefield show that in the 13th and 14th centuries the land on which the present house stands was known as _Brekespere_s estate_, and that in 1376 William Brekespere acquired a 60 year lease on it. He may well have had a family connection with Nicholas Breakspear, who became the only English Pope as Adrian IV. 1400s In 1430 the heiress Margaret Breakspear married George Ashby, one of a family who were acquiring land in the parish. Ashby held the post of Clerk of the Signet first to Henry VI and later to his queen Margaret of Anjou. By 1459 he had become the owner of several other properties in the locality, but his fortunes had fallen somewhat by 1461, when he spent two years in the Fleet prison for debt. The estate passed to his son John, who served Henry Vll as Clerk of the Signet. 1500s The Ashbys continued in Royal service: John Ashby_s son George was also Clerk of the Signet to Henry Vll and later Henry Vlll, and his son Thomas became Clerk of the Spicery in Elizabeth l_s household. By the mid 1500s the Ashby family owned around 1,100 acres in Harefield and Enfield. 1600s No historic house history is complete without a Royal visit, and it is believed that Elizabeth l was a guest at Breakspear House in 1602, while on one of her regular _progresses_. The avenue of oak trees may have been planted to commemorate the event, and Elizabeth l_s coats of arms appear in the stained glass panels of the entrance hall. The Ashby family continued their ownership of Breakspears, the estate passing down through the generations. The core of the house we see today was rebuilt under the direction of Robert Ashby, who inherited the estate in 1623. Timbers have been dated to the early 17th century, and a map dated 1681-85 contains a thumbnail sketch which is recognisably part of Breakspears. The dovecote, now Grade ll Listed, was certainly in existence in 1640, when the Breakspear estate amounted to some 300 acres. 1700s Further extensions meant that by 1760, Breakspear House appeared on the map as an L-shaped building, with an avenue of trees leading from the front entrance: possibly the oaks planted to honour Elizabeth l. Robert Ashby, who died in 1769, was the last male heir of the family. Breakspears became the property of his daughter Elizabeth, who was married to Joseph Partridge. Joseph commissioned a plan of his newly acquired estate in 1771, and from this we can gain a clear picture of the 18th century Breakspears, with its carriage drive, outbuildings and six large ponds. Joseph and Elizabeth made their own changes, extending the house, removing one of the entrances and some of the chimneys, and building a bay on the east side. The gardens were altered too, reflecting the fashion for a more _naturalised_ landscape. 1800-1857 Elizabeth and Joseph Partridge_s son Joseph Ashby-Partridge inherited Breakspears in 1817 and throughout the 1830s and 1840s he made major alterations to the house, demolishing the service wing and extending the main house westwards. This extension included a scullery, kitchen, larder, harness room, coal cellar and beer cellar, all essential for the efficient functioning of a gentleman_s house of the era. Ashby-Partridge rebuilt the upper storeys, added fireplaces, bay windows on the southern front, and installed a steampowered engine to extract water from a well 26 metres down, which meant that all the rooms could have a water supply. It is also likely that the spectacular mosaic floor of the entrance hall was installed during this period. He stamped his own family identity on the property too, and today, the partridge emblem is visible on the heads of the original lead rainwater pipes. 1857-1899 Sadly, Joseph Ashby-Partridge did not have many years of enjoyment from his improved house, as he died childless in 1857. Breakspears passed into the possession of one of his wife_s family, William Wickham Drake, and through him to Captain Alfred Henry Tarleton, equerry to the Duchess of Albany, Queen Victoria_s daughter-in-law. There were periods when the house was leased to tenants, the most famous of whom was W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan. By now Breakspear_s was a typical Victorian country house, with all the _upstairs, downstairs_ features such as a billiard room, servants_ hall and butler_s pantry, and life revolved around shooting parties where the guests sometimes included members of the Royal family. In 1896, Tarleton_s book Nicholas Breakspear, Englishman and Pope, was published. 1899 -1900 From 1899-1900 Captain Tarleton continued with improvements to Breakspear House, extending to the east, raising floors and ceilings, replacing the roof, adding dormer windows, and carrying out major interior refurbishment. The billiard room must have been particularly impressive, with its ceiling and friezes painted with delicate garlands of fruit and flowers. Elaborately detailed mouldings on other ceilings, doors, skirtings and architraves made Breakspear House the picture of elegant late-Victorian interior design. Keeping pace with modern trends, a smoking room was added next to the billiard room, two of the bedrooms were extended with dressing rooms and a bathroom, and the drawing room was given a special sprung floor for dancing. All of this indicates that Breakspears was a centre of sociability that catered for regular guests. 1900 – 1956 Photographs taken around 1911 to 1914, towards the end of the golden age of the country house, show Breakspear House standing in landscaped grounds and substantially covered in creepers. Changes continued to be made: a new, smaller conservatory and new stables built further away from the house. Joseph Ashby-Partridge_s engine room, a cutting edge feature in the 1840s, was converted to domestic use, as the house now had a mains water supply. Tarleton died in 1921 and his widow continued to live at Breakspear House for the next thirty years, although the estate was acquired by Middlesex County Council in 1942 as Green Belt land. In the post-war period, country houses were being torn down at an alarming rate and Breakspear House was lucky to escape this fate. 1956 to present Under the ownership of the County Council, Breakspear House became a care home between 1956 and 1987. When the home closed, Breakspears entered a dormant phase, although it did occasionally make an appearance in film and television productions; Emma, the 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, A Dance to the Music of Time (1997), The Lost Prince (2002) and The Ruby in the Smoke (2006). In March 2007 Breakspears was acquired by the latest in over 600 years of different owners. following a careful restoration Breakspear House is, once again, a beautiful place to live. The next chapter Breakspear House is a Grade l Listed building, meaning any restoration must reach the most exacting standards, matching the original materials and features as closely as is practicably possible. The restoration work carried out has therefore been a long and meticulous process, employing only specialist companies and master craftsmen accustomed to working with heritage buildings. By using time-honoured methods and traditional materials, we have respected the character and history of the house and retained much of its aura, whilst creating within it beautiful homes of the most luxurious modern standard.