Lord Lucan and others at Hampton Court House

11:05am Friday 16th September 2005

By Times reporter

In 1761 a substantial part of Hampton Court Green, of about 312 acres, was granted by the Manor Court to George Montagu Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, Ranger of Bushy Park and fortuitously, Chief Steward of the Honor and Manor of Hampton Court.

Lord Halifax was in effect granting the land for his own use. In fact, four years earlier he had already built a house there.

From the exterior the house looks probably very much as it did when first built although the interior has undergone many alterations. It is a conventional mid-18th century villa and it is likely that Thomas Wright of Durham had a hand in the design. At the same time, he was working closely with his friend, George Montagu, on his other house in Horton in Northamptonshire.

In the garden, Lord Halifax built a shell-lined grotto. The grotto, now restored, is notable as one of Thomas Wright's exuberant surviving successes.

George Montagu was a nephew of the 1st Earl of Halifax who lived at Upper Lodge in Bushy Park and who created the magnificent Water Gardens there.

George Montagu (who added the name 'Dunk' to complete a profitable marriage) built the house not for himself but for his mistress, Mrs Anna Maria Donaldson who, as Mary Anne Falkner, had captivated audiences as a singer at the Marylebone Gardens. She married during her singing career but continued to collect admirers from her devoted audience.

She was noticed by David Garrick among others. It was said 'she chose to limit herself to what she could do well and did not aspire to any great heights'.

Mary Anne also caught the eye of George Montagu whose official residence as Ranger was Bushy House. He became infatuated with her and, as a result, Mary Anne's husband, William Donaldson, was suddenly offered a lucrative post in the West Indies and found no objection to his wife's decision to join the household of the widowed George Montagu, ostensibly as a governess to his children.

Situated conveniently close to Bushy House on the opposite side of the park, Hampton Court House became Mary Anne's residence and life seemed to trundle along happily for the next few years until George Montagu's debts reached a worrying point.

He made an impulsive decision to marry an heiress to improve his bank balance but had reckoned without Mary Anne and her theatrical experience.

She rushed to his London residence and threw herself and their weeping infant at his feet and implored his protection so strenuously that, we are told, 'all resolution left him'. He called off the marriage which was to have taken place the next day.

And what of his jilted bride? The almost new Countess of Halifax? In the manner of the time, she swiftly moved her fortune to another debtor and became Countess of Buckingham instead.

Mary Anne and her daughter moved to London after the death of George Montagu in 1771. In his will he left the house in trust for benefit of Mary Anne and in the event of her death, to their daughter, Anna Maria Montagu.

The trustee's first tenant was the 12th Earl of Suffolk of whom Horace Walpole commented: 'he had few talents'. He was followed by the inveterate gambler, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, renowned for his famous snack of eating beef between two slices of bread. Then came the first Lord Lucan, an army colonel and then an admiral, Lord Keith, who had had the task of telling Napoleon that the island of St Helena was to be his future residence.

William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV) served under Lord Keith during his naval career. In 1811 it was in the hands of Henry Trail of whom little is known although he made an interesting addition to the estate.

Adjacent to Hampton Court House was the Kings Chase Marine House. This had been built in the early years of the 18th century to store the large waggons which would convey groups of people such as acting companies to Hampton Court Palace.

A hundred years later the building became derelict and Henry Trail applied for the lease of buildings and land which then became his private coach house and stables.

All long gone now. James Campbell, a local property developer, member of the famous Toy Club and associate of the Duke of Clarence then bought the property from Henry Trail. Campbell Road, the access road to Hampton Court House was named in his memory.

At that time a half-moon segment of parkland was enclosed from Bushy Park on the north side of the house. No record exists of any entitlement to make this enclosure.

The popular story is that the Duke of Clarence took exception to the common populace in Bushy Park peering in through the windows during his visits. He is reported to have thrown a stick through a window to mark the extent of the enclosure for his friend to enclose to protect his privacy.

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