The Art Deco Thames Eyot flats were built in 1935 on the site of Poulett Lodge, an C18th mansion that replaced an earlier house of c.1701 that burnt down in 1734. It is named after the 3rd Earl Poulett who inherited the property in 1774. From the early C18th there were fine riverside gardens here. By 1842 the estate included parkland on the west side of Cross Deep that became a nursery in the late C19th, but was developed in 1926 as a crescent of private houses. Poulett Lodge was demolished in 1933 when the Thames Eyot flats were built but the former coach house and stables survive. The main ornamental feature is the riverside lawn with its 160m river frontage and long stone balustrade, at the south end of which is a possibly C18th stone loggia, at the west end of which a small square grotto with a barrel vaulted roof decorated with shell work and blue slag. At the north end is a C19th boathouse, with wet dock.
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The site was formerly meadowland and once contained an osier bed. The first house was built c. 1701 for Sir Thomas Skipworth. After Skipworth’s death in 1710, it was tenanted by John Erskine, 11th Earl of Mar, Scottish Jacobite and architect for whom the house ‘was Improv’d [. . . ] with its hanging Gardens to the River’. Mar’s sketches of various gardens in Twickenham survive, and he possibly shaped Skipworth’s garden to his taste. He was acquainted with James Johnston, for whom a fashionable house was built in 1710 a little further downstream, which had a renowned riverside garden, famous for its vines and fruit, with its mount and icehouse below, and a grotto.
Later tenants were William Feilding, 5th Earl of Denbigh and Monsieur Chauvigny, a French ambassador. A contemporary painting (Peter Tillemans, The Thames at Twickenham, 1724) shows the nine-bay house flanked on each side by walls, up which grew climbers or espaliers, with a long terrace ornamented with clipped trees. The large formal riverside garden descended in terraces to the Thames where there was an embankment and a watergate. The eastern part of the garden appears to have been more open than the western part, with grass and a garden pavilion. On the west was another garden pavilion, and a row of trees. All along the riverbank ran a line of trees, and a hedge, with a line of statues on the eastern side. On the western boundary a wall separated the garden from that of Cross Deep. Intriguingly, astride this wall a large two-storey pavilion or banqueting house is shown but it is difficult to determine in whose grounds it stood. It is a building that could have sheltered a grotto in its lower storey, or have covered an ice house. Forward of this, close to the river, stood a smaller pavilion, one of a pair that framed the garden of Cross Deep.
The house burnt down in June 1734 and in 1740 the site was acquired by a Dr William Battie or Batty, a ‘doctor of physic’, who built a new 3-storey house. Rocque’s map of 1744-6 shows a formal garden running down to the river, with two plats (probably of grass), paths by the house and round the plats. On the side leading to the road, a semicircular approach is shown opposite the house. In an engraved view of Dr Battie’s house of 1749, which is more detailed and may be more accurate, the garden resembles that in the earlier painting. It was still formal but some changes had been introduced. It was divided into three parts, with an area of lawn directly in front of the house and on each side a series of terraces overlooking the river, with a rows of trees. The pavilion on the wall is not shown, although the two Cross Deep pavilions are. Dr Battie sold his house in Twickenham long before his death. Nathaniel Lloyd of Lincoln’s Inn Fields acquired the property from him in December 1758, at which time it was described as in the tenure of ‘the Honble Vere Poulett and the said Nathaniel Lloyd’. In a codicil to his will of 18 March 1759, Lloyd stated that he had purchased the house in which he lived at Twickenham, plus three small tenements, from Dr William Battie, and also two pews in Twickenham church, all of which he was leaving to Vere, 3rd Earl Poulett and Mary his wife. Unfortunately, Lloyd does not detail anything about the garden or its contents. There were close links between Vere Poulett and Nathaniel Lloyd as Vere’s wife, née Mary Butt, was Lloyd’s niece. Vere and Mary had married in 1755 at his house in Lincolns Inn Fields, where Mary had spent most of her childhood, and their son, also Vere, was baptised at Twickenham. Mary’s husband predeceased her, dying in 1788, leaving her the Twickenham property according to the wishes of Nathaniel Lloyd. He described his house and its gardens, which were ‘bounded on one side by the River and on the other by the Gardens of Mr. Fitzmorris Brother to the Marquis of Landsdown’. Again, there is no further detail, except that he left the garden utensils, as well as his favourite dog and horse and his green parrot to his wife’s care.
When Mary, Dowager Countess Poulett died in 1819, she left the Twickenham property, which consisted of the house, ‘with buildings gardens lands and hereditaments and appurtenances’ to her son John, 4th Earl Poulett, but he died the same year. The Twickenham deeds are not with the rest of the Poulett papers, but it seems that the house was subsequently either tenanted or used as a dower house, and was separated from the main family estate. It appears the family were thinking of selling it in 1819, after the deaths of Mary and John. The house was tenanted first by Mrs Osbaldiston, then the 6th Earl Cardigan, and then Colonel and Mrs Webb. In 1826, Margaret, Dowager Countess Poulett, widow of John, 4th Earl, moved here, staying until her death in 1838. It was sold the year after, in 1839. It is probable that responsibility for the house was left in the hands of the Dowager Countess Mary and subsequently with Dowager Countess Margaret.
The loggia and grotto are not referred to in any early documents that have so far come to light. The first representation of the loggia appears on the Ordnance Survey map of 1863, which also shows two small structures in the neighbouring garden, whereas the Twickenham enclosure map of 1818 shows these structures but not the loggia. This is not conclusive, but suggests the loggia was erected between 1818 and 1863, probably when it was in the ownership of the 5th Earl of Poulett or Andrew Maclew. However, mapping was very variable, and garden features were not always shown on early maps. In style, the buildings seems to be of the C18th. The grotto was presumably present under the final bay of the loggia when it was shown on the 1863 map, but is mentioned for the first time by name on a map of 1890 as a 'temple & grotto'. It is very likely that the grotto existed before the loggia, which seems to have been erected to lead to it. Its brickwork shell is quite clearly distinct from the structure of the loggia and it has been suggested that the grotto started life as an icehouse. Its shape and size make this a possibility although as it stands today there is no sign of any underground chamber. The present grotto stands at ground level, is roughly square in plan, and seems to have had an open arch towards the river (now partly bricked up). It has a semi-circular vault ornamented with coloured pebbles or stones of blue and brown, and shells, all set in geometric patterns with a circle and star at the centre. The back wall seems to have been ornamented at one time, although now it is mostly lined with flints. Such grotto chambers were being built as early as the C17th, many created from the early C18th onwards, and through into the C19th but there are very few clues by which to date this one. The only shred of evidence is the 2-storey pavilion seen in the Tillemans painting in roughly the position of the present grotto. This may have been damaged in the fire, or otherwise demolished, since it is not present in any subsequent illustration, but its lower storey may have survived to become the grotto. Early occupants of the house, especially the Earl of Mar, had gardening interests.
The dating of both grotto and loggia are evidently very problematic and a number of other theories have been proposed. 'Blest Retreats' (1984) suggested the loggia might date from the occupancy of W. H. Punchard, but its depiction on the OS map of 1863, 7 years before Punchard moved in, precludes this. It has also been suggested that it came from the Poulett family seat in Somerset, but this seems unlikely since the Somerset branch of the family had little to do with the house at Twickenham after 1788. In the absence of any documentary evidence, English Heritage suggest that the grotto dates from the period 1770-1800 when grottos were fashionable following the publicity given to the famous Pope's Grotto (q.v.) on Alexander Pope’s estate, just up river from Poulett Lodge. EH also suggests that the Poulett family added the loggia and grotto in the late C18th. Michael Lee suggests that the grotto and loggia date from 1780-1820, but also without documentary evidence. However, it is quite possible that one or both are of an earlier or later date.
Sometime between 1784 and 1818 the estate was extended northwards as far as Water Lane. The 5th Earl sold the estate to Andrew Maclew, a magistrate, who acquired further land to the west of Cross Deep, formerly the Grove estate (Deed of Covenant of 1842 and Tithe Map & Award of 1846). He left the estate to his friend Mr Charles Cecil Martin or Martyn and in 1870 it was acquired from the Martyns or Martins by William Henry Punchard, an eminent railway engineer. Punchard completely re-built the house to the design of Fred Chancellor, F.R.I.B.A., with two new wings, a veranda and a conservatory. The handsome stone balustrade that still runs the full length of the riverside frontage was built at this time, as were the gated steps down to the river, the lion’s head mooring rings, the boathouse with wet dock, the modified coach house building and the three extant gate piers. The boathouse was later described in the Chancellor & Sons 1903 sales catalogue as being surmounted by a balustraded terrace with a mosaic floor and a flag pole.
In 1884 the property passed to businessman William Nicholson, whose head gardener was William Bates, locally renowned for his horticultural skills and a member of the floral committee of the Royal Horticultural Society. At this time the house had climbers on its walls; there were trees on the riverside lawn (probably cedar of Lebanon, weeping ash and willow, as described in 1903); and half hardy plants filled the flower beds and the urns on the balustrade. A 'Wilderness Walk' with elms and ivy was probably also in existence in the vicinity of the loggia. There was a small kitchen garden at the north-west corner of the riverside site, surrounded by a plethora of glasshouses, including a heated house with palms, orchids and other exotic ornamentals, a Camellia house, a peach house, a pineapple house, a melon house and a range of vineries, according to an article in the Richmond & Twickenham Times c.1890(?). By this time the estate included c.3 hectares of land on the west side of Cross Deep purchased by Andrew Maclew, which in the C17th had been agricultural land, part of Hither South Field, and subsequently contained a mansion house, The Grove (demolished 1836) and cultivated gardens. In Nicholson’s time it contained a number of exotic ornamental trees, an apple orchard and a large kitchen garden with soft fruit trained on walls.
In 1890 the two halves of the estate were separated when William Bates was permitted to use the site on the west side of Cross Deep as a commercial market garden until his death in 1925. In 1926 the land was sold to a property developer who built a crescent of houses on it, named Poulett Gardens. The riverside site was bought by John Willis, owner of the Cutty Sark, and then by a property company. In 1926 a social club 'for ladies and gentlemen', boasting a nine-hole golf course and tennis courts, started operations on the site but was forced into liquidation in 1929.
In 1930 local butcher William Skull purchased the riverside estate as an investment. In 1933 Poulett Lodge was demolished and replaced with the current Art Deco block of flats. Other developments on the site in the 1930s included a parade of shops and flats called King Street Parade, and Grove Lodge flats on the Cross Deep boundary. Another small residential building, Eyot Lodge, was built beside the Thames Eyot Flats in 1964. The name Poulett Lodge has been preserved by being given to the modified coach house, which survives from the C19th and today serves as a porter’s lodge.
The grounds of Thames Eyot were replanned and replanted in 1962. Today the roadside area has a number of trees of no great age and the area is devoted almost entirely to car parking. The site’s main ornamental feature is the balustraded lawn with its magnificent river views. The Poulett Lodge estate formerly included a small plot of land at the southern tip of Eel Pie Island (Chancellors’ sale catalogue, 1925), which is today managed by Richmond Council as a nature reserve. The lack of development on this contributes greatly to the beauty of the vista. The dilapidated condition of the loggia and grotto, however, is not only unsightly, it is also, together with the condition of the C19th boathouse, a cause for concern for heritage reasons.
Batey, Mavis et al. Arcadian Thames: the river landscape from Hampton to Kew, London, 1994; Cobbett, Rev. Richard Stutely, Memorials of Twickenham, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1872; Gascoigne, Bamber, Images of Twickenham, 1981; Lee, John Michael, Thames Eyot: the site of Poulett Lodge, Twickenham Museum Occasional Paper no.1, 2004; Lee, John Michael, The making of modern Twickenham, Historical Publications, London, 2005; LB Richmond, Blest retreats: a history of private gardens in Richmond upon Thames, 1984; LB Richmond, Highlights of the Richmond Borough art collection: Orleans House gallery, Twickenham, 2002; Macky, John, A Journey Through England, 2nd edition, 1722/3, p.64; Willson, Anthony Beckles, Mr. Pope and others at Cross Deep, Twickenham in the 18th century, Twickenham, 1996; Winn, Colin G., The Pouletts of Hinton St. George, Research Publishing Co., London, 1976; Auction sale catalogue for Poulett Lodge, 29 May, 1879 (mentioned in Gascoigne, 1981); Chancellor & Sons, auction sale catalogue for Poulett Lodge, 1903; Chancellor & Sons, auction sale catalogue for Poulett Lodge, 1925; Illustrated Monthly News, November 1927; Richmond & Twickenham Times(?), 1890(?) (Cuttings in Richmond Local Studies Collection). www.twickenham-museum.org.uk Twickenham Museum website: information about the owners of Poulett Lodge and a number of its occupants. Poulett Papers (Somerset Record Office, Taunton).
LPGT Volunteer Research by Ron McEwen, July 2009