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Family Trees From The Garden of England

  • Albion House, Ramsgate

    I have been researching the history of Albion House in Ramsgate which is currently being sympathetically renovated to open as a boutique hotel. This change of use will see the building reverting to its origins of providing a place to stay for holidaying visitors to the Ramsgate seaside.

    The land for Albion Place was purchased by Stephen Heritage from Robert Smith, a carpenter, in March 1789. Stephen Heritage laid out the land for the construction of Albion Place and its roads, with building plots for resale. The building plots were then sold on to a group of 20 people in March 1791. James Simmons was not among this list of purchasers so he must have bought the house or the land in order to build the house from one of these people.

    The deeds stipulated that the houses were all to be built in a similar manner and were to be completed within two years.

    This means Albion House was built 1791/2 by James Simmons, alderman and entrepreneur of Canterbury.

    It appears that Albion House was purchased as an investment by Simmons as there is no sign that he ever lived anywhere else other than Canterbury. He was an influential figure in the city, improving Canterbury's pavements, lighting, the Buttermarket and Dane John Gardens. Simmons was from fairly humble backgrounds. He was born in Canterbury in 1741 to a peruke maker and attended King's School before serving an apprenticeship in London as a stationer. He founded the Kentish Gazette which is still in existence today and invested in a number of projects such as a mill and the creation of the Canterbury Bank which was to eventually merge with Lloyds. He was a sitting MP for Canterbury when he died in 1807.

    Albion House was sold by Simmons' executor to the Duke of Portland and following his death a couple of years later the house was put up for auction in 1810.

    At this point Mary Townley purchased the property.

    2 Feb 1810 Kentish Gazette

    The elegant marine mansion of Albion House built by the late James Simmons sold by his executor to the late Duke of Portland sold at auction on Tuesday with a piece of garden ground at the back of Albion Place sold to Mrs Townley for £3970 (the house for £3300 and the garden for £670)

    Her husband, James, was one of the original purchasers of some of the plots in Albion Place. James Townley had gone on to purchase the green in front of Albion Place in 1803. This was sold in 1839 at the time of Mary Townley's death. Mary Townley, nee Gostling, was one of England's earliest female architects.

    She was the daughter of a prosperous London lawyer. Her family moved to Whitton Place in Twickenham when Mary was aged around 14. Her designs in Ramsgate included barracks, which were later turned into houses, the development of Albion Place, townhouses that became the Regency Hotel and

    Townley House.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury occupied the house in the summer of 1810 arriving there in the August.

    At the end of June 1821 a Dr Andrews, doctor to the prominent banker, Mr Coutts, committed suicide whilst

    staying at Albion House when in Ramsgate to visit a friend. [Norfolk Chronicle 7th July 1821]

    In March 1834 the property was let for three months to the Earl and Countess of Munster. The Earl was the eldest natural son of King William IV by his mistress.

    It was Townley's prominent role in local society, arranging balls at Townley House and entertaining the nobility that no doubt added to the attraction for the aristocracy to visit Ramsgate. This aristocratic connection was confirmed with the visit of the Duchess of Kent with her daughter Princess Victoria, later Queen Victoria. They stayed at Albion House for several months in 1835.

    It was whilst in Ramsgate that Princess Victoria caught a severe fever. She left Ramsgate in January 1836. The Bentinck family also frequented the property for many years. Lord Edward Bentinck (1744-1819)

    was an MP and his daughter Charlotte married Sir Robert Garrett. During their engagment Robert wrote to Charlotte and one of his letters dated 14th of January 1813 mentions 27 Albion Place (Albion House). "General Harvey tells me that a Jew occupied the old house 27 Albion Place last summer...." This pre-dates the strong association of Ramsgate with the Jewish community brought by Moses Montefiore who moved to the town in 1831. Interestingly Montefiore had honeymooned in Ramsgate in the summer of 1812 which corresponds with the period of the letter of Robert Garrett when he refers to 'a Jew' staying at Albion House. Perhaps it was Montefiore himself who stayed at Albion House whilst on his honeymoon.

    Mary Townley owned Albion House until her death in 1839. At this point the property was put up for sale at

    auction along with a number of other properties owned by the Townley family. Lot 52 from the Sales Particular shows the position of Albion House and gives a description of the number and type of rooms in the building.

    The house continued to be let as a holiday home to members of the gentry. In 1838 the Duke of Newcastle stayed there for the season. He returned again in 1846. The Duke of Newcastle was active in politics but did not hold any political office. He was against Catholic Emancipation and Electoral Reform. He evicted his tenants who did not vote for his favoured candidates. His opposition to electoral reform led to Nottingham Castle (one of his residences as Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire) to be burnt to the ground by rioters. In 1839 he wrote a very offensive letter to the Lord Chancellor and, after refusing to withdraw it, was removed from his Lord Lieutenant post by the Queen.

    The house was still being advertised to let in 1850 but after this time it appears that there was a change of use to a men's social club. There are plans of a billiard room originally dated March 1837 with accompanying description as to the works to be carried out but they do not appear to have been signed off until 1851. There is no mention of it in the sales particular of 1839 so it seems the plans were drawn up but not acted on until after its sale. It is described as Albion Club House, Albion Place.

    Mary Townley's death coincided with Ramsgate becoming a less fashionable resort to stay in for the aristocracy and gentry. "The smarter resorts on the south coast began to lose their aristocratic tone in the 1840s and 1850s, when they were discovered by middle-class Londoners. Towards the end of the century Charles Booth found a growing number of Londoners, especially clerks, policemen, shopworkers and local government employees, who had a week's or even a fortnight's paid holiday, and were thus able to join in London's colonization of the Kent coast"[Stephen Inwood A History of London] . The house may then have struggled to have been let as a family residence and for this reason became used as a gentleman's club before becoming a lodging house. Albion House was certainly a lodging house by at least 1857 when George Potter, a substantial farmer, was at the property. He is recorded at the property in the 1861 census as a Lodging House Keeper. In 1871 George Potter was still at Albion House where it was now described as a boarding house. A number of the guests at that time were solicitors. By this time it was being used by the middle classes for holidays with people like the Church family, headed by Edmund Boyle Church, a solicitor visiting.

    A newspaper report from 1876 tells the story of how in 1860 a Major General MacPherson and a Mrs Huddlestone took lodgings with Mrs Potter at Albion House. They stayed there a number of months during which time Mrs Huddlestone gave birth to a daughter Caroline Sophie. The child was described as the daughter of Philip and Sophie Huddlestone on the birth certificate. The child was then sent away to boarding school and at a later age her mother, now married, took her as a servant, badly mistreating and starving her. The mother claimed that she was the child's aunt but this was simply to cover up the fact that the child was illegitimate. Mrs Potter was called to the trial to identify the woman as the same person who gave birth to the child at the lodging house. The mother was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months hard labour - a sentence which the newspapers protested was not long enough for the cruel treatment given to the child.

    In 1881 the Boarding House Proprietor was Charles Wilkinson. Ten years later the house no longer seemed to be in use as a boarding house and was put up for sale in August 1892. The house was finally sold in 1900 by Montague Kingsford, a solicitor, to Ramsgate Council who used it as its offices until 1974 when it transferred to the ownership of Thanet Council.

    2 Comments

    • 1. Apr 17 2017 3:17AM by Marilyn Smith

      I am currently seeking information on a gentleman by the name of Henry Matcham (1832-1882). According to The Illustrated London News he lived at Townley Castle, Ramsgate. Could you tell me anything about the history of this property and would there be some record of what he might have been doing there? Needless to say, I have undertaken quite a task and any assistance you might be able to give me would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to your response. Many thanks!

    • 2. Apr 18 2017 8:11AM by syplizp

      Hello Marilyn

      I have found some information on Henry. He inhertied Townley Castle. If you would like to get in touch regarding research please email me at searchyourpast@hotmail.com

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