Menaced by the shadow of an immense ugly gasometer, Frogmore House has become a neglected curio on Watford’s Lower High Street. However, thanks to painstaking research by historic buildings preservation experts The Temple Trust, the future could well be bright for the Grade II listed property.
Temple Trust chair Suzannah Fleming has embarked upon a series of talks about the future of Frogmore House that have proved to be of such great interest to Watford people they have sold out straight away but due to this unprecedented popularity, she is willing to add extra dates to meet demand.
“Over the past 20 years the building has suffered from appalling neglect – through it being unoccupied, vandalised and suffering from dry and wet rot,” points out Suzannah.
It was not always so. Situated within an 18-acre estate and with grounds reaching down to the River Colne, Frogmore House was something of a status symbol in its heyday. It was built in 1716 for Isaac Finch (the Elder), a wealthy local merchant specialising in the leather dressing trade, who died at the impressive age of 104. The site included ornamental and walled gardens, an orchard and pleasure grounds.
It stood as testament to the rising fortunes of the Finch family business and was occupied by descendants of the Finch-Shipton family until 1775, after which it was rented out to a succession of tenants.
In 1904, the estate was sold to the Watford Gas and Coke Company and in 1910 the high street was widened to within a few feet of the front door.
From 1946 to the 1980s the house was used as flats for gas company employees but later it became derelict.
In 2009, The Temple Trust identified the building on the English Heritage Buildings At Risk Register and initiated a dialogue with the current owner, National Grid, with a view to helping to rescue the house and the remains of its walled garden. The decorative front door case of the house was reported as ‘stolen’ in an article in the Watford Observer dated 1998 but luckily in 2010 The Temple Trust found the missing item in a London salvage yard. Since this time The Temple Trust has been developing proposals with National Grid for the conservation, rehabilitation, and on-going use of Frogmore House.
“The trust sees it as a potential permanent home for our books on building conservations and as a place where architecture and garden history researchers could come and view our archive. We would also like to bring the walled garden back to life for public use.”
As well as restoring and preserving the fabric of the building, The Temple Trust also intends to create a learning centre for heritage skills.
“There is a shortage of people who have traditional skills and we felt Frogmore should become a learning opportunity for people who want to work in the heritage sector as craftspeople. We want to give young people an opportunity to enter the heritage sector and receive vocational training. It might also help people in the building trade such as bricklayers and roofers involved in projects that involve a historic or listed building or home owners of a listed building who want to learn how to take care of it and how and why it was put together.”
Through her illustrated talks Suzannah hopes to rekindle local affection for Frogmore House which has already won her over and in turn, Suzannah has gained the support of local councillors.
“I have to say I’ve been really encouraged by the community support we’ve received and the project has been green lighted, as it were, by the local MP Richard Harrington and Mayor Dorothy Thornhill,” Suzannah adds. “The next thing we knew we were giving talks hosted by the museum who were equally prepared to assist us in whatever way to get the message across.”
The next batch of talks are at Watford Museum, Lower High Street, Watford on Saturday, November 17 at 2pm (sold out) and Wednesday, December 12 at 6pm. Places are free but booking is essential.
Details: 01923 232297